Coach Ivan Hasek backs his players to finish the job as Toninho Cerezo slams suggestions that Shabab will take it easy against their title-chasing rivals.
No room for error from Ahli
DUBAI // Cometh the hour, cometh the men. That is Ivan Hasek's theory as he takes his side to Al Shabab tonight for the final, and most important, game of the season. Ahli need to defeat their Dubai rivals to maintain their one-point lead over Al Jazira and pip the Abu Dhabi giants to the inaugural Pro League title. And the reward for the winner is the small matter of a place in December's Fifa Club World Cup, which will be held in the country.
"We have worked 10 months for this and we cannot afford to let go now," said Hasek. "It is a derby match. Shabab have a very good team. They were the champions last year and reached the President's Cup final this year. They also played very well in their last game of the Champions League against Bunyodkor. So it is going to be one of the most difficult games of the year for us." Ahli could find the game a lot tougher if the embarrassing 5-3 defeat against Saba Battery is still preying on their minds. The crashed to defeat in that AFC Champions League match on Wednesday night after leading 3-0 until the 68th minute. Hasek, however, believes that humbling loss could have a positive influence on his side as the players will be keen to bounce back strongly.
He said: "All the players know what we need to do against Shabab. Against Saba Battery, we were playing for the third place in the group and for some players it probably was not a big motivation. The motivation will be lot greater in this game." If Ahli fail at Shabab and Jazira win at Ajman, Abel Braga's men return home with their first league title. Hasek, however, has urged his side to forget about Jazira.
"Of course, there will be pressure on us. But we played the President's Cup final last year, so the players know about pressure. If you want to be champions, you have to be able to perform under pressure." Hasek had rested the likes of Faisal Khalil, Bare, Mohammed Qassim, Hosny Abd Rabo and Obaid al Taweelah for the game against Saba, and they will return refreshed for tonight's match. "I think we are ready for this game," said the Czech boss. "We know we have to win the match, and we should stick together and play as a team, like we have done all through the season.
"The important thing is that everything is in our hands and we cannot let things slip." In recent days, speculation has been thrown about that Shabab might "help" their rivals to bring the trophy to Dubai. Toninho Cerezo, the Shabab coach, however finds such suggestions absurd. "I have only one thing to say - we are not just coaches, educating our players is part of our job too," he said. "Ethics are as important as winning. All my coaches and teachers have taught me just one thing: to play for a win and play fair.
"So I have never played for a draw or to lose. I have always played to win and that is what I have taught my players." Cerezo pointed out to the recent history between the two Dubai sides. In this decade alone, Shabab have been responsible for Ahli missing out on league title twice - taking points from them in 2001 and 2004 to allow Al Wahda and Al Ain, respectively, to take the title. "If you look at the history between Shabab and Ahli, you will see that the matches have always been tough and very competitive," added Cerezo. "We have played without any outside consideration; there have been no favours done.
"Anyway, Jazira and Ahli don't need help from any other team. Both of them have reached this stage through their own effort. They are both fighting for the title and the best one will win. "We are going to play against Ahli in the same way we played against Jazira. We went to Jazira for a win (a 4-1 defeat in the last match) and we will play for the same here." firstname.lastname@example.org Shabab v Ahli, KO 7.50pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1
If Ahli win - the title is theirs regardless of Jazira's result If Ahli lose or draw - the title is Jazira's as long as they beat Ajman If Ahli lose and Jazira draw - the title will be decided by a play-off