x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pro League: Surging Al Wahda have score to settle with Al Wasl

Al Wahda welcomes back two 'match winners', will take aim at sixth win in a row and will try to avenge season-opening loss to Al Wasl on Friday, writes Amith Passela.

Al Wahda captain Ismail Matar, left, returns to the pitch tonight after missing his team’s 1-0 win over Dibba Al Fujairah last week. Ravindranath K / The National
Al Wahda captain Ismail Matar, left, returns to the pitch tonight after missing his team’s 1-0 win over Dibba Al Fujairah last week. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Unbeaten in five games, Al Wahda host Al Wasl on Friday night with their sights set on closing the gap to Abu Dhabi rivals Al Jazira, who sit in the fourth Asian Champions League qualifying spot.

A win would put Wahda within a point of Jazira, who travel to fifth-placed Al Nasr on Saturday, and manager Branko Ivankovic is still smarting from his first league game in charge of the Abu Dhabi club - a 4-1 away thrashing by Wasl.

"I can't forget the first game against them. They gave us a real shocker," said the Croatian.

"Wasl, like Wahda, have a great big reputation. They can't be taken lightly at any time, regardless where they stand in the league table.

"I feel they have reached a good level now, considering the narrow 2-1 defeat to Al Dhafra and Al Ain and last week's excellent 3-2 win over Al Jazira."

Ivankovic feels Wahda's run of form has come at just the right time and is confident of Asian qualification.

"With seven games left it is still possible for us to achieve this goal," he said.

"As always, I am thinking of winning every game we play. The team has improved leaps and bounds since the beginning of the season when we had a cope up with lot of injuries.

"That's behind us. I am very pleased with the progress we have made now that almost all the players are available. There are some minor injury setbacks every now and then but this is unavoidable."

Ivankovic will be without the services of Hamdan Al Kamali, the centre-back, while Srdan Andric, the Croatian midfielder, has to pass a late fitness test on the morning of the match.

However, the return of captain Ismail Matar and Papa Waigo, the Senegalese forward, after missing the 1-0 win over Dibba Al Fujairah last week is good news for Ivankovic.

"They are both match winners for us," he said.

"We need to have our strongest line-up against Wasl who seems to have returned to their early form after a mid-season slump."

Wasl's fortunes changed dramatically under Eid Baroot, the Emirati who took charge from the Frenchman Guy Lacombe after a series of poor results in all competitions.

Baroot's first game in charge was a 4-2 win over Ajman but they lost the next two before the stunning result over Jazira last week.

That victory will have certainly raised their moral ahead of the second visit to Abu Dhabi in two weeks.

With seven games left to play, Wasl are in ninth on 23 points- 12 off a Champions League spot - but Baroot has not given up hope.

"It is not easy to reach fourth it's not impossible also," he said when he took charge in the middle of February.

"We are in ninth position and must try to improve on that. The history of the club and the fans, who are one of the most passionate in the UAE, deserve it."


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