x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Sanchez Flores wants Al Ahli to stay focused for Al Jazira test

Coach delighted with side's start to the Pro League campaign.

Quique Sanchez Flores, right, is looking to keep his side grounded despite their impressive start to the season.
Quique Sanchez Flores, right, is looking to keep his side grounded despite their impressive start to the season.

DUBAI // Throughout the summer, many different voices around Al Ahli Football Club talked about the belief in the championship credentials of their team.

It was the reason Quique Sanchez Flores extended his contract with the Dubai club.

"He believes he can help Ahli win the league next season and this is an achievement he wants to have on his CV," the Spaniard's agent, Jorge Mendes, said in June.

Grafite and Luis Jimenez gave the same reason for turning down offers that would have taken them back to Europe.

After finishing last season with five consecutive victories in the Pro League as well as winning the Etisalat Cup, their conviction appeared to have foundation.

Still, few would have given them the chance of extending that winning streak into the new season as Ahli travelled to the champions Al Ain for their opening league match last Sunday.

Ahli overturned a 2-1 half-time deficit and won 6-3, inflicting the heaviest defeat on Al Ain since 1985.

"To win 6-3 is not normal, especially when you win on the home ground of the defending champions," Sanchez Flores said. "It would be difficult to imagine something like that before the game."

After that win, portions of the media and fans see Ahli as the title favourites, describing Sanchez Flores as a master tactician and a motivator par excellence.

They are also saying Grafite, the hat-trick hero, is the best foreign striker in the league.

Bashir Saeed's goal - a spectacular volley - is being hailed as one of the best this league has seen.

Sanchez Flores, of course, is wary of this kind of hype. But he is confident his players will not let it get to their heads and will be focused for tonight's clash against last season's President's Cup winners Al Jazira.

"This is a very dangerous situation," he said. "We would prefer to receive this praise at the end of the season. To get it now is dangerous, so we will have to try and stay level-headed.

"If I could choose a start, I would prefer a start like last week. It is important for the confidence of the team. But the important thing is to keep giving such performances.

"We have two options in front of us now - to relax after this win or try to build on this result. This is the challenge and this is the target: to grow. The target is to take advantage of the spirit in the team, to take advantage of the mentality of the players and focus on just the next match."

Jazira have lost their first two games of the season. They were defeated by Al Ain in the Super Cup and were then stunned at home by Al Nasr as Walter Zenga's men scored twice in the final minutes in a 2-1 win.

Paulo Bonamigo, the Jazira coach, acknowledged there is "pressure" on his side after those two defeats, but the Brazilian is hoping they can answer his rallying call tonight

Sanchez Flores thinks Jazira can bounce back from those losses, but hopefully not tonight.

"These top teams have a different mentality," Sanchez Flores said.

"Defeats may affect them for a short time, but they know how to recover from them and get back to the top of the league tables.

"Can we take any advantage of their present situation? I don't know. What we know is we are going to play a really strong team with some really good players. So I am sure it is going to be a difficult, difficult match.

"If I am wrong, then perfect. I will be happy."

arizvi@thenational.ae

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