x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Change at the top 'will not affect' Al Jazira players

Caio Junior takes charge of his first match against Al Shabab in Etisalat Cup semi-finals, while Al Ahli look to end poor run against Al Wasl.

Caio Junior, left, will take charge of his match with Al Jazira in the Etisalat Cup semi-final match with Al Shabab.
Caio Junior, left, will take charge of his match with Al Jazira in the Etisalat Cup semi-final match with Al Shabab.

Al Jazira are confident the midweek change of coach will not hamper their chances in tonight's Etisalat Cup semi-final against the holders Al Shabab.

Brazilian Caio Junior has taken over the reins after Jazira dismissed Franky Vercauteren, along with the rest of his coaching staff, just hours after their 4-2 win over Uzbekistan club Nasaf Qarshi in the Asian Champions League on Wednesday. The club said the Belgian was shown the door after a breakdown in the relationship with his players.

Caio Junior's first assignment as Jazira coach will be hindered by the enforced absence of captain Ibrahim Diaky, who is suspended following his red card in the last match against Al Wasl.

However, Ayad Mabkhout, the Jazira team manager, is confident the defending Pro League and President's Cup champions can achieve their target of reaching the final.

"It is a difficult game for both the teams," Mabkhout said. "We both have played in the Champions League and there has not been enough time to rest or prepare for this match.

"But the difference between the two teams is that we will enter the match on a high after our great win over Nasaf, while the morale in the Shabab camp will be a bit low after their draw against Al Gharafa.

"I don't think the changes [in management] will affect the players. They are mentally strong, very experienced and we have confidence in their ability to cope with any circumstances and keep marching towards victories and titles.

"The proof of their qualities is their performance in recent times, despite the difficult situation they were in with the coach."

Subait Khater, one of the senior members of the Jazira squad, also believes the midweek turmoil at the club will not have any adverse effect on the players.

"We are all experienced players and we know how to adapt to different situations," he said. "We all know our roles and our duties in the team, and we back ourselves to carry out the instructions of any coach.

"As for the match against Shabab, we all know it is going to be a tough one. It is a semi-final and there is no room for error. Our morale is high after the big win in the Champions League, which is our main goal for this season. But this does not mean winning the Etisalat Cup, the President's Cup and the league is not our objective.

"We are determined to win as many trophies as we can and we will go out against Shabab tonight with the aim of reaching the final."

Shabab, head into the match following a disappointing goalless draw against the Qatari side Gharafa in the Champions League on Wednesday, but will be buoyed by their performances against Jazira this season, with both sides having beaten each other. Shabab inflicted a 3-2 defeat to the champions in the Pro League, but were dumped out of the President's Cup following a 4-2 loss.

Paulo Bonamigo, however, believes those two matches, or even the draw against Gharafa, will have no bearing on tonight's match.

"In football, what you have done in the past does not help you," Shabab's Brazilian manager said. "What you do on the day is more important.

"It is a big match, but for us, every match is big. There are no easy matches. It is a semi-final and we are playing an excellent team. I am sure it will be an entertaining match to watch."

Meanwhile, having lost their last six matches against Al Wasl, Al Ahli are hoping to buck that trend tonight in the Etisalat Cup semi-finals, a match their officials described as the "most important" of the season.

Ahli have not beaten Waslsince the 4-1 league win over their city rivals in September 2010. They lost all four matches against Wasl last season, and Diego Maradona's men have won twice this term: 4-0 in the President's Cup and 2-1 in the Pro League.

However, with the Etisalat Cup being their only hope of silverware this season, Mohammed bin Jablout, coach Quique Sanchez Flores's assistant at Ahli, said his team cannot afford to lose tonight.

"Unfortunately, we don't have any opportunities in any other competition, locally or in the GCC," bin Jablout said. "So this is the most important tournament for us and the most important match of the season for us.

"We have 180 possible minutes to define our season. A successful 90 minutes against Wasl will give us another 90 minutes [in the final] to gift something to our fans. So we will go all out and hopefully be able to put up a strong show to stop Wasl."

Wasl's morale is high after Tuesday's 2-0 triumph in Muscat over Al Nahda in the Gulf Clubs Championships.

Maradona, however, will be missing four key players, including talisam Mariano Donda, who is yet to recover from a combination of flu and stomach bug.

Wasl will also be missing midfielder Mohammed Jamal and defenders Fahad Masood, who is out for the season with an injured Achilles, and Yasser Salem because of suspension. The Wasl coach is, however, banking on the fans at Rashid Stadium.

"I have noticed the number of fans has been decreasing in recent matches," the Argentine said. "This is disappointing and I request our fans to come and support us. We need them and they are vital to the success of our team."

arizvi@thenational.ae