x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Pro League: Weary Al Nasr face 'most difficult' task against Dibba Al Fujairah

Zenga hails his weary team for battling back into the top four but is expecting the 'most difficult' task at Fujairah, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Walter Zenga is wary of hosts Dibba, who are in the drop zone and will come hard at Al Nasr. Jaime Puebla / The National
Walter Zenga is wary of hosts Dibba, who are in the drop zone and will come hard at Al Nasr. Jaime Puebla / The National

Success invariably comes at a price. But the four Pro League clubs representing the UAE in the Asian Champions League never thought they would be penalised for it.

That is the prevailing impression at Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Nasr and Al Shabab, who have been left exhausted by a gruelling schedule that will see them each play nine matches in a period of just over 30 days.

"Clubs here are spending a lot of money on top coaches and players, but as long as we have such programming, it will keep undermining their efforts," Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain manager, said earlier in the month.

"The [Pro League] Committee knew the month of April would be a difficult one, as we will be playing four matches in Asia, but instead of making it easier for us, they have added insult to injury and increased the number of matches."

Across the past 21 days, Al Ain have played six matches - two in Asia and four at home and before the end of this month, Olaroiu's team will play three more.

But with a second consecutive league title virtually sealed, they can focus their energies on their final two group matches in Asia and try to qualify for the second round.

Jazira, Shabab and Nasr, however, can afford no such luxuries as they battle for the top four spots in the Pro League.

Jazira and Shabab still have a chance of qualifying for the second round of the Champions League, so they will be stretching their resources.

"From March 29 to April 30, were not going to have a single day off," said Walter Zenga, the Nasr coach. "We are going to be here [training] every day.

"And it's not easy, not just for the players, but also for the people that work for the club: masseur, doctor, physiotherapist, kit men, the assistants and other staff.

"We have calculated in the 30 days between March 29 and April 30, we will spend 23 days in the hotel. We don't even have time to go to the supermarket to get groceries."

Despite their hectic schedule, Zenga's men managed to steal a 1-0 win at Al Wahda on Sunday to move back into the league's top four.

Today, they will travel to Dibba Al Fujairah, host Iranian club Sepahan on Tuesday and then meet Al Ahli 72 hours later.

Zenga does not want to complain about the scheduling, but asks for a bit of understanding.

"Believe me," he said, "it's not easy to play Baniyas, Al Gharafa, Jazira, Gharafa, Wahda [Nasr's last five matches] and now we are going to Dibba. People don't understand this point."

Given their situation, Zenga has lauded the spirit of his players. After going through a period of seven league matches with just one win, the team is now unbeaten in five matches, with three wins and two draws.

Perhaps, the wake-up call was the defeat at bottom-placed Kalba in the 17th round.

"Sometimes, when you receive one punch, you show no reaction," Zenga said.

"You stay on the floor and you are finished. But if you have a good team and a good relation between coach and players, if you have a good feeling, you can react, and their reaction was unbelievable. You have to have a great relationship with the players, a great feeling. Only in this way you can try to do something."

Zenga is now hoping they can keep the same attitude when they meet Dibba tonight, a game which the Nasr manager described at the "most important" of the season for his team. "I think this will be the most difficult game we have to play this year," he said.

"And the reason is very clear for everybody. It is going to be our sixth game in almost 20 days and we are visiting a team that is fighting to stay alive [in the Pro League].

"So the players need to be aware of this and they have to keep playing in the way they have in the last five league games. They played a great match [at Wahda] and collected a great win. We need to show the same kind of concentration against Dibba, show them respect.

"If they do that, I'm sure they're going to play one great game."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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