x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Shabab will give Champions League full focus, says coach Bonamigo

A 3-0 win over Neftchi in Dubai sees Pro League side comfortably through to Asia's top tournament.

Ciel, the Brazilian striker, was one of Shabab's star performers against Neftchi.
Ciel, the Brazilian striker, was one of Shabab's star performers against Neftchi.

DUBAI // Paulo Bonamigo has promised the Asian Champions League will not play second fiddle to Al Shabab's Pro League campaign after the Dubai club qualified for the continental championship last night with a comfortable 3-0 win over Uzbekistan's Neftchi.

No UAE club have progressed beyond the group stages of the revamped Champions League since 2007, and they have generally focused their resources on domestic competitions.

But Bonamigo, whose team are fourth in the Pro League, claimed his priorities are different and the Brazilian has challenged his players to dream big in Asia.

"We think different here," Bonamigo said. "We realise how difficult it has been to qualify for Asia and now our moment has come to play. We dream of playing at such competitions of higher level.

"This competition brings a lot of motivation to the players. We understand we are representing not just our club, but our country.

"Only by getting better results in Asia, we can bring greater attention to UAE football. We cannot just go there to participate.

"We cannot cross our hands and say we have to pay more attention to local competitions. It doesn't make sense."

Essa Obaid was the hero for the home side last night, scoring twice - first in the sixth minute and then on the hour mark - and Neftchi's Alijonov Aziz deflected a corner into his own goal in added time.

The win earns Shabab a place in Group D of the competition, which includes Al Gharafa of Qatar, Saudi Arabia's Al Hilal and Persepolis of Iran. They are home to the Qatari side in their first group match, on March 7.

Shabab are the fourth UAE club to qualify for the Champions League. Al Jazira, Baniyas and Al Nasr are also representing the country in Asia, and the first two will be on action on the opening day of the championship, on March 6. Nasr, like Shabab, start their campaign on the following day.

"We have to remain optimistic," Bonamigo said. "We are in a tough group, but these players have played some international tournaments. We are the GCC Club champions.

"So the group we have at the club right now, they are a tough lot and keen to show their quality at the international stage.

"It is a tough group, but we are going to fight for our opportunities. We will work hard and we will prepare the players mentally. We want them to believe nothing is impossible. We want them to dream and be ambitious, and fight for better results."

Yuriy Sarkisyan, the Neftchi coach, accepted Shabab were the better team, but rued the chances his players missed.

"We were not surprised by Shabab's level, but we did not expect to lose 3-0," he said.

"Al Shabab had the moments and they used it. We also had a few moments, but could not use them. We are in our off-season, just training as our league starts in March.

"The league here is past the mid-way mark, so Shabab have match practice and are feeling good."

arizvi@thenational.ae