International call-ups leave both Abu Dhabi clubs relying on squad depth, writes Amith Passela.
Jazira hope for helping hand in push to reach UAE League Cup semi-finals
ABU DHABI // Al Jazira’s hopes of a semi-final spot in the League Cup are out of their hands as they head into a derby match with Al Wahda on Sunday.
Baniyas are a point ahead of Jazira, and a win at Dubai would ensure their place in the last-four stage alongside the group leaders Sharjah, who meet city rivals Al Shaab.
To compound the situation, Jazira will be depleted when they meet neighbours Wahda at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
They will be without five key players: Felipe Caicedo, the Ecuadorean forward; Abdelaziz Barrada, the Moroccan midfielder; and the Emiratis Ali Kasheif, Khamis Ismail and Ali Mabkhout, are all on national-team duty.
Stefano Cusin, Jazira’s assistant coach, said his side can cope with the absences.
“The head coach [Walter Zenga] has full trust in his entire squad and will have a strong line-up. He expects those who are selected in place of the absent players to perform and prove their worth,” he said.
Cusin said Zenga would make sure the team did not start worrying about the Baniyas result.
“We don’t want to make that mistake of thinking too much about the result of the other game between Baniyas and Dubai but just focus on winning the game we play,” Cusin said.
“We’ll see what happens thereafter, because a game against Wahda, regardless of the positions, is always special and exciting for the players as well as for our fans.
“To win against them requires a strong fighting spirit, strong mentality and full concentration, and I feel our players will go in to this game knowing all these facts.”
Wahda have no hope of making the knock-out rounds and are without Hamdan Al Kamali, Eisa Ahmed and Salem Saleh because of international duty.
However, manager Jose Peseiro said they will treat the game just like any other.
“The players must respect the club shirt when they are on the pitch,” the Portuguese said.
“It is always a big game against Jazira whatever situation we are in. There is pride at stake. Our approach to every game is to win and play at the highest level, and this game will be no different.”
He also hinted at providing some fringe players an opportunity by leaving some of his key players, such as Ismail Matar and the Argentine duo Damian Diaz and Sebastian Tagliabue, on the bench.
“Providing some of the young players the opportunity to play doesn’t mean we are going understrength. In fact, those provided with the opportunity will be more motivated to prove their selection,” Peseiro said.
Meanwhile, Baniyas are looking for their first win in four games under Adnan Hamad, the Iraqi who replaced the Uruguayan Jorge da Silva last month.
They meet a Dubai team who are lagging at the bottom in both the Arabian Gulf League and their League Cup group.
It is more straightforward in Group B, with Al Dhafra (12) and Al Ahli (10) already through to the semi-finals. Dhafra travel to Ras Al Khaimah to face Emirates, Al Ahli play at home against neighbours Al Shabab and Al Nasr make the short trip to the Zabeel Stadium for a meeting with Al Wasl.
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