x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE Pro League comes before Asian Champions League for Al Nasr's Walter Zenga

The Italian coach says his squad are capable of finishing second in the table, currently topped by Al Ain.

Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dec 16 2012, Al-Maktoum Stadium Dubai, Al nasr v Al Ain- (right ) Al Nasr's Head Coach Walter Zenga during action at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Mike Young / The National?
Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Dec 16 2012, Al-Maktoum Stadium Dubai, Al nasr v Al Ain- (right ) Al Nasr's Head Coach Walter Zenga during action at Al-Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. Mike Young / The National?

DUBAI // Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach, has refuted suggestions his side should concentrate solely on the Asian Champions League now the Pro League title is all but out of reach.

Last Friday's home defeat to Al Shabab saw the club slip one place to sixth in the table, leaving them 15 points behind the leaders Al Ain.

However, while the champions may seem to enjoy an unassailable lead in the league, Nasr are preparing for a successful campaign in Asia's premier club competition having earlier this month qualified for its group stages.

Leonardo Lima's last-minute penalty against Lokomotiv Tashkent, the Uzbek side, ensured progression, with Nasr taking the final spot in Group C. Their opening encounter takes place next week, away to Sepahan, the Iraqi champions.

Zenga, though, is predictably reluctant to sacrifice the domestic season to thrive on the continent, especially as his charges remain only six points behind Al Jazira, the team currently in second place in the league.

"I believe in this squad," said Zenga, who in two seasons at Al Maktoum Stadium has guided Nasr to third-place and runner-up finishes.

"I have the squad and the players to finish second in this league. We cannot simply focus on the Champions League because we're still capable of challenging for that second place.

"Perhaps there are some people around the team who are happy with the recent bad results, but I'm sure we can reach second. But if it's only me believing in this it is not enough. Everyone must have faith and trust in us."

Nasr's struggles take root in a league run that includes four victories from their past 10 matches, while they have triumphed three times in nine Etisalat Cup fixtures.

Kalba provide their next opposition in the league, although Nasr should be confident of returning on Thursday from the east coast with maximum points.

Ze Mario's men have lost 12 from 15 games in the league and remain second from bottom, yet a lively transfer window, underlined by last week's narrow defeat at Al Wahda, has increased optimism that relegation can still be avoided.

That, and Nasr's recent discomfort, has Zenga in cautious mood ahead of the clash.

"We haven't had a lot of positive results lately so Kalba will not be easy," the Italian said. "However, I hope we'll have a good game and get the three points."

Zenga will seek little solace in the return from suspension of Giuseppe Mascara as his availability is tempered by the absence of Lima, who blotted his own personal performance against Shabab – the Brazilian scored both goals in the 3-2 defeat – by collecting a third booking of the season.

Nasr, therefore, enter the Kalba game without their captain, and will field almost the same 11 that began the derby.

"We were missing Giuseppe in the last game, and now Lima, so we just swap one for one," Zenga said. "It makes it difficult for us to perform at our highest level; we continue without our best team."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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