x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Diego Maradona fancies Al Jazira or Al Ain to win the Pro League title

The Argentine football legend admits his own side, Al Wasl, have struggled to keep their focus that has resulted in picking just two points from the previous five games.

Diego Maradona, the Al Wasl coach, has got into trouble for voicing his criticism of match officials.
Diego Maradona, the Al Wasl coach, has got into trouble for voicing his criticism of match officials.

DUBAI // Diego Maradona has picked Al Jazira, the defending champions, and Al Ain as the main contenders for the Pro League title.

After 10 rounds of the 12-team competition, Al Ain, winners of a record nine league titles, are at the top with 24 points, while Jazira are second four points behind. Al Shabab are third on 19, while Al Nasr are a further point adrift and Al Wahda are fifth with 16 points.

Al Ain are the only unbeaten team in the league this season, but Maradona, the Al Wasl coach, says it will be interesting to see how they cope with the absence of Asamoah Gyan, who has scored nine of the team's 22 goals up to now.

Gyan left the UAE's shores after the end of the ninth round to join Ghana for their African Cup of Nations campaign. However, in his last match for his club, the striker pulled up with what now has been diagnosed as a hamstring injury.

The on-loan forward has been ruled out for three weeks and the injury has put his participation in the continental championship in doubt.

"You cannot predict who is going to win because every team have their strength, but I believe Al Ain and Al Jazira are the main contenders," Maradona said.

"Now Al Ain have lost Gyan. He is a very dangerous player, so we have to wait and see how they manage without him.

"Jazira are also a very strong team. Maybe right now they are not as focused, but they still have a very strong, competitive side that can win the league."

Maradona's own team are languishing in seventh at the moment after taking only two points from their last five games. They are 12 points behind Al Ain and the Argentine legend is clearly unhappy with the state of affairs.

"We also have a good squad," Maradona said. "We managed to win against the big teams and I believe we can still beat any top side. But I agree there is a slide in our performance and that is because of a loss in concentration.

"After the match against Al Wahda, I gave my players some clear instructions: if you are playing in a yellow jersey you have to make sure you pass the ball to a player in a yellow jersey. It's very simple.

"But obviously, they are still making a lot of mistakes and there is still a loss of focus. We want to work on that. I will change players and formations. I will now give a chance to the players who are maybe not as skilled, but are more focused. That's what is lacking on the pitch right now."

Maradona also intends to curb his criticisms in the second half of the season after his views on officials drew a fine from the UAE Football Association's disciplinary committee.

"It is a very competitive league and I have seen some really good matches," he said. "So I am really happy to be a part of this league.

"But there is a negative side of the league, and that is the refereeing; it has to improve. The referees here do not seem to accept criticism, but I am not doing this just for the sake of it. I am really attached to this league and I want to see it improve.

"The only way to improve the league is to improve the refereeing, but the referees always want to keep a gap between us and them. So I think the best thing to do now is to remain silent. But it is disturbing for me."

arizvi@thenational.ae


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