x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Jazira coach Caio Junior ready for Shabab challenge

Second play third tonight in the chase to catch Pro League leaders Al Ain.

Caio Junior, the Al Jazira coach, believes whoever wins the match with Al Shabab will close in on leaders Al Ain. Mike Young / The National
Caio Junior, the Al Jazira coach, believes whoever wins the match with Al Shabab will close in on leaders Al Ain. Mike Young / The National

ABU DHABI // Al Jazira play host to Al Shabab tonight in the first match of a three-game, 11-day stretch that may determine if their season is remembered as a success or a failure.

Shabab are second in the Pro League and Jazira, the holders, are one point behind. The side who can take full points at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium may rightfully hold out hope of catching leaders Al Ain.

Jazira play host to Esteghlal, the Iran side, in an Asian Champions League match on Wednesday, and on April 23 meet Baniyas at Zayed Sports City with the President's Cup at stake.

"Our focus will be on these three very important games," said Caio Junior, Jazira's Brazilian coach. "We are playing Shabab and this is an important game for both teams. They are the most improved team and have also got some good players, particularly in attack.

"Whoever wins this game can go close behind Al Ain."

Paulo Bonamigo, the Shabab coach, believes the league race is not over, despite the nine-point lead Al Ain have over his side.

He notes the latter have some tricky matches to play in the final weeks.

Al Ain, who travel to Al Wasl tomorrow, will host Jazira and Shabab in two of their final four matches.

They also are away to Emirates, who are in a relegation fight, and Ajman.

"This game is very important for both teams because the winner still has a chance of challenging for the title and going on to even win it," Bonamigo said.

"So it is going to be a very difficult game.

"We have to stay hopeful and confident that we can win this match and we will fight for these three points."

Shabab have a 2-1 advantage over Jazira this season, winning the last game – the Etisalat Cup semi-final – by a stunning 4-0 margin.

Jazira have won five of their six matches since, including a stunning 2-1 Champions League triumph over Esteghlal in Tehran. Jazira lead Group A, and could clinch a berth in the knockout round with a draw against the Iran side next week.

Both sides will play without key contributors. Caio Junior said the Argentine midfielder Matias Delgado and the Australian defender Lucas Neill may not be available, due to injury, and the left-back Abdullah Mousa is out on a one-game suspension.

Shabab will be without the Chilean midfielder Carlos Villanueva, who is out for the season with a knee injury, and Ciel, the Brazilian winger, who is currently on a one-game ban.

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