Abu Dhabi club take on Iranian champions Persepolis in the last-16 stage, with the first leg held at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium on Monday.
Asian Champions League: Henk ten Cate calls on Al Jazira to deliver performance in final home game of the season
Al Jazira manager Henk ten Cate has called on his players to deliver a performance in the final home game of the season as the Abu Dhabi club looks to respond to a disappointing league title defence in the Asian Champions League.
Jazira cruised to the Arabian Gulf League title last season, claiming 11 more points than second-placed Al Wasl while winning all 13 of their home games. This season has been a stark contrast as Jazira finished seventh, 25 points behind the champions Al Ain.
Despite their domestic struggles, Jazira have performed well in the Champions League and face Iranian Pro League champions Persepolis in the first leg of the last-16 at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium on Monday.
Ten Cate believes his team are better than their league position shows and is convinced Jazira can earn a positive result against Persepolis if they remain focused.
“If the players reach their best form, especially the younger players, we can go a long way,” the Dutchman said. “I have been at the club for a year and-a-half and I can see a lot of improvement.
“The team is playing better football, even if don’t see it in the results. We create a lot of chances but sometimes you need some luck.
“But luck is not something you get - you have to earn it. You earn it if you work really hard, and that’s because you put in a lot of effort into a game. If you don’t, then you don’t get anything back.
“That’s what we need to do in this last home game in the season. I think we can do a few things. But all the players have to give 100 per cent or more in this game.”
With the first leg of the tie at home, Ten Cate believes this gives an advantage to Jazira, who are appearing in the Champions League last-16 stage for a third time.
“I like it,” he said. “I prefer to play at home first. In the second leg you might step into a trap. So I’m happy to play at home first. Even a 0-0 draw is good for us because we are capable of scoring everywhere, anywhere and anytime.
“This is the team we have. We create a lot chances and it’s a matter of scoring. Of course we want to win and we will play to win but always in the back of my mind I know we can score at least one goal in the away game.”
Ali Kasheif, the Jazira captain and goalkeeper, has urged the club’s fans to turn out at the Mohammed bin Zayed stadium on Monday to throw their support behind the team.
“I don’t need to invite the fans but I’m hopeful they will be at the stadium to stand behind us,” he said. “Like the fans, we too are ready for the game.”
Persepolis manager Branko Ivankovic said he was “proud to reach” the knockout stage of the competition.
“We know Jazira well as an opponent,” he said. “They didn’t play well in the domestic competitions but they have done better than last year in the ACL.
“They have something to prove to their fans after the not so good results in the domestic competitions. For us, we want to continue as we are the Iranian champions.”
Ali Mabkhout and Brazilian Romarinho have scored eight of Jazira’s nine goals in the ACL as the Abu Dhabi club finished as runners-up in Group A.
Persepolis, on the other hand, have been in good domestic form having won the Iranian Pro League for the second successive season. They topped Group C after winning four of their six games.