x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Marcos Paqueta upbeat on Al Shabab's Asian Champions League chances

It is a must-win scenario for both the Pro League side and their Uzbek opponents Pakhtakor. Amith Passela reports.

Marcos Paqueta expects an open game against Pakhtakor.
Marcos Paqueta expects an open game against Pakhtakor.

Marcos Paqueta, the Al Shabab coach, has urged his players to go flat out tonight in a bid to secure their place in the Asian Champions League round of 16 with both qualifying places very much up for grabs.

Group B permutations mean all four teams have a chance to progress to the knockout round. The Dubai club meet Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan away, while group leaders Lekhwiya, of Qatar, take on Saudi side Al Ittifaq at home.

A point for Lekhwiya against second-placed Ittifaq would guarantee their progress, while victory for Shabab or Pakhtakor will see them join the Qataris.

"It is everything to play for," Paqueta said. "We expect a very tough match, though, as both clubs have to play to win. Only a win opens the door for us to the round of 16."

Paqueta will be without midfielders Ibrahim Abdulla and Naser Masood, although Uzbek international Azizbek Haydarov will definitely feature in what is Shabab's biggest game of the season.

"I rested Haydarov in the last match in the Pro League, but he will play in Tashkent. We also have two suspended players, but I am not worried,"added Paqueta.

"I believe the game will be very open. Pakhtakor have a lot of good young players and they played well in Dubai against us, but we must forget that result [a 1-0 defeat in March]."

Shabab have clawed their way back into contention after losing their first two games, while Pakhtakor are bidding to return to the last 16 for the first time since 2010.

"All the teams have a chance to qualify to the next round and both matches will be very interesting," Murod Ismailov, the Pakhtakor coach, said.

"Shabab had some problems in the first two matches in this competition, but they beat Lekhwiya in the last game and showed they have potential.

"I have watched many of Al Shabab's games this season and there are no weak teams in the tournament. They have a lot of experience with some good foreign players, while their bench also played well against Lekhwiya."

Meanwhile, Lekhwiya coach Eric Gerets will have to utilise his squad to its potential after being hit by injuries and suspension to key players for the match against Ittifaq.

Striker Sebastian Soria, who has scored four goals in the competition this season, is banned after being sent off in last week's 3-1 loss to Shabab, while defenders Madjid Bougherra and Kingambo Tresor are sidelined through injury."

apassela@thenational.ae

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