x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Tough test at Al Ahli for Zenga's Nasr side

Striker Grafite says hosts must start winning home games if they are to be in the title hunt.

Walter Zenga has conceded it will be difficult for Al Nasr but will take every game seriously including today's Dubai derby.
Walter Zenga has conceded it will be difficult for Al Nasr but will take every game seriously including today's Dubai derby.

DUBAI // Al Ahli will be looking to improve their home record when they host Al Nasr tonight in the Dubai derby, a match that has been described as crucial to the fortunes of the two teams this season.

Ahli are unbeaten on the road in the Pro League this season, humbling the likes of Al Ain (6-3) and Al Wahda (6-2), and winning 13 points from five games.

At home, though, they have just one win from four games and have dropped seven points, losing to Al Jazira (2-0) and drawing with Dubai (1-1) and Baniyas (0-0). Their lone win at the Rashid Stadium has come against traditional rivals Al Shabab (5-1).

"We are keen to compensate for the seven points we have lost at home," said Grafite, Ahli's Brazilian striker who has scored 16 goals this season.

"Our goal is to be in the running in every competition and we need to start winning at home."

However, Mohammed Al Hammadi, a member of the Ahli board, said the players will not be paying much heed to their lack of victories at home.

"We play to win every game, whether it is at the Rashid Stadium or away, because that is the only way to compete for titles," he said. "So that will be the focus of the team, though we know how difficult this game is.

"This match against Nasr is one of our toughest tests, a game that can be described as a crossroads for both teams because it could change the shape of the competition.

"If Ahli win, one of the strongest contenders would slip down the table and we will progress in the standings."

The hosts will be missing their influential midfielder Amer Mubarak following his red card in the match against Wahda and Ali Hussain or Tariq Ahmed is come in and replace him

For Nasr, the Iraqi playmaker Nashat Akram will return from suspension to provide the creative spark his team missed in their 3-1 win over Dibba Al Fujairah.

Walter Zenga, the Nasr coach, was not very pleased with his team's performance in that game and he will be hoping for a better show as his team try to keep the pressure on leaders Al Ain.

Nasr are second in the points table, two behind Al Ain (22), but some of their fans are upset with Zenga after he suggested it might be impossible to stop Al Ain from defending their title.

The Italian made that statement before the Dibba game and said the rest of the teams will be battling for second spot.

"I know a lot of Nasr fans, especially on the forums, are angry with me over my statement regarding the championship," Zenga said at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday.

"But I also know they do not represent all the fans of Nasr, who have faith and trust in the abilities of our team.

"I am not thinking about the top position or about the championship, but I am thinking about winning every game. In the end, if we finish second great. Even if we finish third or fourth, it does not mean we are a bad team."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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