x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Pro League preview: A big game of chance between Al Ain and Al Jazira

With the regular season growing shorter Al Jazira know they will get few opportunities as good as taking on Al Ain directly to make up ground in the Pro League table.

Ibrahim Diaky, left, and his Al jazira teammates have not had much time to prepare for Pro League leaders Al Ain due to Asian Champions League duties. But the title holders also had that problem.
Ibrahim Diaky, left, and his Al jazira teammates have not had much time to prepare for Pro League leaders Al Ain due to Asian Champions League duties. But the title holders also had that problem.

ABU DHABI //The Pro League title race may boil down to 90 minutes Sunday night at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain when Al Jazira come calling.

Al Ain's shock defeat to Dibba Al Fujairah last week saw their lead over second-place Al Jazira, the 2010/11 league champions, cut to just six points.

If Al Ain win, they would restore a comfortable nine-point cushion over their rivals, with nine games remaining.

Should Jazira triumph, the title race would be back on with the gap cut to just three points.

Baniyas, third but level on 34 points with Jazira, are away at Dibba, where a victory for them would maintain a six-point gap should the league leaders also win.

The game also marks a first league outing for Luis Milla, Jazira's new Spanish coach. First assignments do not come much tougher.

"The team managed to reduce the lead behind Al Ain to six before I took over," said the Spaniard, who was brought in to replace Paulo Bonamigo last month. "And now we have a big opportunity go even closer.

"From my side, I know the importance of this game. The players, too, know the importance of this game. These are special games for them and they will love to play in this kind of atmosphere."

Milla, the former Spain Olympic team coach, saw his side lose 3-1 away in his first game in charge against Tractor Sazi of Iran in the Asian Champions League last Tuesday.

A day later, Al Ain beat Saudi side Al Hilal 3-1 at home.

"We played against a tough team in Iran but that is behind us now," Milla said. "I think we still played a good game. We controlled the game. We didn't allow Tractor Sazi to create many scoring opportunities.

"Of course, we want to raise that level against Al Ain. They are the leaders and that shows how good a team they are."

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, said the timing of the match was not ideal, coming so soon after the Champions League games.

"I can't speak of the other team, but we had very little time to prepare for this game," the Romanian said. "Obviously we know a win against Jazira will put us in a strong position, yet it doesn't guarantee the league title for us.

"Of course, it is a very important game for both teams."

Milla highlighted the quality of Al Ain's forward players.

"They have quality in every line and are dangerous in attack with players like [Asamoah] Gyan, [Alex] Brosque, [Jires] Kembo-Ekoko and Omar Abdulrahman," he said. "We know all the important players and we will have a plan to stop them.

"We will not try to make different tactics but play the same way the team had been playing before, because it is not possible to change anything in a very short time."

Al Ain are sweating on the fitness of 21-goal top league scorer Gyan. He did not start the match against Hilal - the Ghanaian came on with seven minutes left and scored the third goal - and is doubtful starter with a calf injury.

"We won't decide if he will start until the day of the match," Olaroiu said. "I had a chat with him before leaving him out of the line-up against Hilal and will consult him again on how well he is to start against Jazira."

Ali Al Wehaibi, the UAE international, has been ruled out after suffering a leg injury against Hilal.

 

ELSEWHERE:

DIBBA AL FUJAIRAH v BANIYAS

The league’s bottom side will be buoyed by last week’s shock victory at Al Ain, their second win in three matches. However, Dibba could struggle to contain a Baniyas side boasting four successive league victories, with recent signings Mohamed Aboutrika and Christian Wilhelmsson on form.

 

AL NASR v DUBAI

Walter Zenga’s men need a victory to placate their disillusioned fans, frustrated by just four wins from 12 matches in all competitions. Nasr can field Leonardo Lima and Giuseppe Mascara together following recent suspensions. Dubai, with one win in nine, need Richard Porta to regain goal-scoring form.

 

AJMAN v AL SHABAB

Having relinquished their 13-game unbeaten record on Tuesday, the league’s in-form side Al Shabab will be confident of returning to winning ways. Shabab have emerged victorious in eight consecutive league matches, while a struggling Ajman have lost their last three games.

 

apassela@thenational.ae

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