x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

UAE sides search for relevance in Asian Champions League

No UAE side has survived the group stage since 2007, a stretch of futility that encompasses 10 campaigns and could stretch to 14 if the four sides this year do not begin amassing points soon.

Ibrahim Diaky, left, tangles with an Al Gharafa player in Al Jazira's opener.
Ibrahim Diaky, left, tangles with an Al Gharafa player in Al Jazira's opener.

With the threat of early irrelevance hanging over them, three UAE teams play in the second round of the Asian Champions League(ACL) tonight and tomorrow.

No UAE side has survived ACL group stage since 2007, a stretch of futility that encompasses 10 campaigns and could stretch to 14 if the four sides in the 2011 tournament do not begin amassing points soon.

Four first-round matches, three of them at home, produced only two draws two weeks ago.

"I'm not discouraged, but two points from 12 is not a good result," said Carlo Nohra, the chief executive of the Pro League.

First up are Al Jazira, the Pro League leaders, who are away tonight to Sepahan of Iran. Tomorrow, Al Wahda play at Persepolis of Iran in Tehran and Emirates are home to Al Rayyan of Qatar.

Al Ain's match at Nagoya Grampus, scheduled for today, has been postponed because of the earthquake in Japan.

In Isfahan, Jazira face a Sepahan team that won away at Al Hilal of Saudi Arabi as Jazira were being held to a scoreless draw at home by the Qatari side Al Gharafa.

Phil Anderton, the chief executive of Jazira, said the coach Abel Braga will not field a weakened side tonight ahead of a President's Cup semi-final on Monday and a key Pro League match at Wahda on March 25.

"He knows the President's Cup is a priority, and the league is an even bigger priority, but it's not as if we're playing three games in five days," Anderton said.

Sepahan got goals from the Senegalese forward Ibrahima Toure and the Brazilian midfielder Januario in the victory at Al Hilal.

Jazira will look to their foreign contingent of Brazilian forwards Bare and Ricardo Oliveira, and the Argentine midfielder Matias Delgado, to negate Sepahan's imports and will hope that their Emirati passport holders, led by Ibrahim Diaky, Subait Khater and Ali Kasheif, will make the difference.

Sepahan are unbeaten in their past 21 matches, and have won 15 and drawn five at home since February 2010, an unbeaten streak that began with a scoreless draw with Al Ain in the 2010 ACL.

Wahda venture into the 100,000-capacity Azadi Stadium for their match with Persepolis, who lost 3-1 at Al Ittihad as the UAE side were drawing 1-1 at home with Bunyodkor.

Jazira had a match in Azadi Stadium last year and emerged with a scoreless draw with Esteghal. "In that sort of venue you need to make sure your players are buoyed up and confident because it's intimidating," Anderton said.

Wahda, the defending Pro League champions, have struggled to find their bearings after a slow start, and lost in the Etisalat Cup semi-finals on Thursday.

Emirates, holders of the President's Cup despite playing in the UAE's second tier, are struggling as Al Rayyan arrive. They are without a win in six matches, including a 2-1 home loss to Al Oruba in a First Division match last week.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae