x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

'Football does not recognise links between brothers'

Siblings face-off in play-off match between Sharjah and Emirates, both teams finished at the bottom of the Pro League and need a win to stay in top flight.

Lutfi Benzarti, the Emirates coach, has a slim chance of staying in the Pro League.
Lutfi Benzarti, the Emirates coach, has a slim chance of staying in the Pro League.

Faouzi Benzarti, the Sharjah coach, says family ties will play no part in tonight's crucial play-offs encounter with Emirates, the team managed by his brother.

Benzarti faces his elder sibling, Lutfi, at Al Shabab's Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium with both clubs still capable of sealing a place in this season's Pro League.

Sharjah are the better placed having taken three points from their two matches, while Emirates are bottom of the four-team table following successive defeats to Al Shaab and Al Dhafra.

The Ras Al-Khaimah club were beaten 5-1 on Sunday by Dhafra, meaning their chances of remaining in the top flight - Emirates finished second bottom last season, one position above Sharjah - are slim at best. They need to beat Sharjah heavily and hope Al Dhafra defeat Al Shaab, while Sharjah need to better Al Shaab's result.

However, Benzarti has warned his Sharjah side not to expect any favours from his brother.

"Football does not recognise links between brothers," he said. "We are prepared to face a team, not just one person. I've met Lutfi before in the Tunisian league, so this match is nothing more than a confrontation between two teams.

"The players are determined to win. We've put qualifying for the Pro League to the forefront of our minds and aim to succeed in our mission."

Sharjah kept alive hopes of extending their 22-year stay in the top tier with Marcelo Oliveira's injury-time winner against Shaab. Benzarti said the manner of victory proves his side are in peak physical condition heading into this evening's clash.

"Our fitness is the best among the teams participating in this competition," he said. "We scored in injury time, which means we committed ourselves for 95 minutes and our performance did not suffer."

Meanwhile, Salim Jasim, the Sharjah midfielder, remains confident of taking the three points, but believes, despite their two defeats, Emirates still represent a stern challenge.

"Everyone understands the difficulty of the task that faces us," he said. "We respect Emirates as they have a number of distinguished players in their ranks.

"Although we have three points from two games, we will fight to defend our chances of staying in the Pro League. Morale is high among the players and we want to return the team to its natural place in UAE football."

Sharjah have no fresh injury concerns and are expected to field the same side that defeated Shaab on Sunday. Emirates can recall Haider Ali, their experienced captain, after he missed the loss to Dhafra following his red card in the opening round.

Hassan Maatouk, who played for Al Ahed in his native Lebanon and who enjoyed a successful loan spell at Ajman last season, will make his debut having missed the first two matches because of international commitments.

Yousuf Al Batran, the Emirates first team supervisor, said the players are determined to retain their Pro League status after believing their chances had evaporated with the Dhafra defeat.

"After we finished the game everybody said Emirates didn't have a chance, but now we do, which is good for my team as it has raised morale," he said.

"The team is ready to play Sharjah, especially now we have Maatouk back, who is a very important player. We will give everything and I believe we still have a good chance to make the Pro league. We will fight; we have only one game to do all we can."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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