x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hasek hopes Ahli can strike twice

Al Ahli caused the only blot in Al Jazira's Pro League campaign, defeating the Abu Dhabi glamour side in Dubai by a lone goal back in October.

Al Ahli will have to stop Fernando Baiano, Al Jazira's 17-goal league top scorer, tonight.
Al Ahli will have to stop Fernando Baiano, Al Jazira's 17-goal league top scorer, tonight.

DUBAI // Al Ahli caused the only blot in Al Jazira's Pro League campaign, defeating the Abu Dhabi glamour side in Dubai by a lone goal back in October. Jazira have looked unstoppable since and, as Ahli travel to Abu Dhabi tonight, their coach Ivan Hasek said the past will count for little when the leagues top two sides take the field.

"The reality is what happens on the field," said the former Czech national team captain. "What has happened before and what is going to happen in the future is not important." Jazira have been undefeated in the league since that loss to Ahli in October. They have accumulated 35 points in 14 games, winning 11 matches and drawing two. Ahli, with a wealth of talent spread across the field, are two points behind, with 10 wins, three draws and the lone defeat at Al Wahda in their third game.

With eight games to go, most pundits back Jazira and their squad of big-name players to finally end their jinx and win a first league title, especially if they manage to beat Ahli tonight - a victory that would effectively be worth six points. Hasek is not paying much heed to such talk and said: "It doesn't matter what people say, the reality is what happens on the field. So we prefer to let our performances speak. That is better for us.

"For sure this is a big game for Jazira and it is a big game for us. We will be going there with a positive attitude and play for a good result against the best team in the league at this moment. "It is a big challenge for us, even though we did not have enough time to prepare. We respect Jazira and the quality they have in the side. But we also know we have quality in our squad as well." With the Egyptian wizard Hosny Abd Rabo and Brazilian enforcer Clederson Caesar manning the midfield, and Faisal Khalil showing rich form up front since his return from suspension, Ahli have indeed looked the only side who could stop the Jazira juggernaut.

They have been consistent without being spectacular. Injuries have, however, been a concern, but regular keeper Obaid al Tawelah and Hassan Ali are available for the match. Obaid Khalifa however, with three yellow cards, will miss this decisive game. Hasek does not think tonight's result will decide the title. "Yes, it is one of the most important games for us," he said. "But we have other difficult games in the future. In fact, every game is difficult. In the league, not a single game is easy.

"That is why our objective is always to win the next game. The next game is against Al Jazira and we will try to see that our fans are happy after the game." arizvi@thenational.ae