x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Finish first and Jazira will reap the rewards, says coach

Caio Junior delighted to make "history" with the Pro League champions as the Abu Dhabi club book their place in the next round of the Asian Champions League.

Ricardo De Oliveira, centre, celebrates his goal.
Ricardo De Oliveira, centre, celebrates his goal.

ABU DHABI // Caio Junior considers the knockout phase of the Asian Champions League to be a station, not a destination. Al Jazira's Brazilian coach is thinking very big: nothing less than the championship of the continent will do.

"We are making history, but I want more than this," he said last night. "We need to win the group so that we are home in the next round, which is only one match, because if you win that the possibility of reaching the final increases very much.

"I will do my best for the players to believe in this. We want to write our name in club history and become champions" of Asia.

Ricardo Oliveira's second-half header enabled Jazira to gain a 1-1 draw with Esteghlal, one of Iran's biggest clubs, and clinch a place in the ACL knockout round for the first time, in their fourth attempt. Jazira also are the first UAE team guaranteed to escape the group phase since Al Wahda did in 2007.

"I'm so happy because I did the same achievement in Qatar with the Gharafa club," Caio Junior said. "That was the first time in Gharafa's history, as well as Jazira.

"I think we are in the football world to make history. I hope I can do much more."

Jazira are on 10 points from four matches, four ahead of Al Rayyan and five over Esteghlal. On May 2 they are home to the Uzbek side Nasaf, whose chances of advancing ended last night.

Caio Junior said he will continue to play his first team in the Champions League "until we win the group. Being at home is very important".

The Abu Dhabi club survived a first-half dominated by the visitors from Tehran, who were far more aggressive and seemed unlucky to score only once in 45 minutes, a simple tap-in by the forward Arash Borhani against a scattered Jazira defence.

Esteghlal's coach, Parviz Mazloum, said he had not ordered his players to press Jazira so relentlessly, and blamed their freelancing for producing a weary side in the second half.

"I am not satisfied with the result," he said. "We could have won the match but we didn't because we pressed too much in the first half, and our players were tired. I had to substitute three attacking players because they were tired.

"Unfortunately, exactly like in Tehran, we surrendered a goal by chance," he added.

"Again, I say I am not satisfied with this result."

Mazloum earlier insisted that Jazira's 2-1 victory in Tehran two weeks ago, the first by a UAE team in Iran, had been a matter of luck, two goals taken from three opportunities to his side's one from 12.

He complained that Oliveira's goal, which came off the back of the striker's head from a corner taken by Matias Delgado, was "made by chance" before conceding: "Football is chance, and they used their chances."

Esteghlal's fans in the UAE attempted to make them feel at home. About 500 of them gathered in the north stand at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and chanted "Iran!" and unfurled several large Iranian flags, and in the first half they were louder than Jazira's supporters.

Jazira seemed surprised at the ferocity of the Esteghlal first-half onslaught, and the goal was no surprise. Esteghlal had been spending large blocs of time in the Jazira half, and Ferydoon Zandi simply rolled the ball back to Borhani, and his first touch sent it into the goal.

Caio Junior rearranged his formation for the final 45 minutes to match Esteghlal's midfield-choking 4-5-1. With Oliveira to his right and Delgado to his left, the veteran Ibrahim Diaky was able to hold the ball in the middle of the park, and he got the ball forward for Oliveria and his compatriot Bare to make several dangerous runs.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae

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