x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Wahda get their priorities right

The Pro League title contenders give up on the Asian Champions League campaign to retain domestic focus.

Al Ittihad's Abdelmalik Ziaya opens the scoring during his side's 2-0 win over Al Wahda at Al Nahyan Stadium last week.
Al Ittihad's Abdelmalik Ziaya opens the scoring during his side's 2-0 win over Al Wahda at Al Nahyan Stadium last week.

ABU DHABI // The old cliche says "take each game as it comes" but Al Wahda are already looking past tonight's Asian Champions League (ACL) tie against Al Ittihad in Saudi Arabia. The Abu Dhabi club have all but given up on the ACL and are focusing their resources on the only trophy they can realistically win, the Pro League, and their vital trip to Al Ain on April 9 - a game which will go a long way towards deciding the fate of the title.

Winless in three ACL games, Wahda travelled to Jeddah for the Group B at the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium without the Brazilian trio of Fernando Baiano, their top scorer who is serving a one-match ban for two bookings, and the midfielders Pinga and Magrao, both carrying minor injuries. Mohammed al Shehhi, the UAE international, is also out. "We have had two hard games in four days and some of the players need time to recover from the little niggles they picked up from these games," said Haider Ali, the Wahda captain. "We must be realistic and get our priorities right on what we can achieve at the moment.

"We are heading the domestic league table and we believe we have a better chance in winning this at the moment. So obviously our main focus is to preserve the league lead and we have a very crucial game coming up with Al Ain next week. It will be foolish not to think about this game." It has been a tumultuous week for Wahda. They suffered their third straight defeat in the ACL when going down 2-0 at home to tonight's opponents Ittihad last Wednesday and were then beaten 3-0 by Jazira - after having three players sent off - in the Etisalat Cup semi-final second leg on Saturday.

And Ali added: "We had a bad week. Our chances in the ACL have become very, very slim after losing all three games. Technically, we are still not out of the competition. If we can win this game, then there is some hope. Strange things happen in football and you never know what's around at the next corner. So fingers crossed." The Iranian side Zobahan, who head the group on seven points. They travel to Uzbekistan to face Bunyodkor, who have six points, while Ittihad are on four.

After dropping two points against Al Ahli at home in Riyadh last week, Eric Gerets, the Al Hilal coach, said the Pro League team did not deserve the point and dismissed the visitors as a side his Saudi champions could beat 10 times out of 10. Arriving in Dubai for tonight's Group D game, Gerets had changed his tune about Ahli, who scored an injury-time equaliser last Wednesday for their first points of the competition.

"I have a lot of respect for Ahli," said the Belgian, a former Marseille coach. "We do not underestimate any team. What I was trying to say after the last game is that we did not play well. Now we are here to compensate." Ahli are at the bottom of the group on one point, followed by Mes Kerman (three), Al Sadd (six) and Hilal (seven) and Noureldine al Obaidi, their caretaker, said:"We cannot play for any result but a win, considering the difficult position we are in."

@Email:apassela@thenational.ae Al Ahli v Al Hilal, 7.25pm, and Al Ittihad v Al Wahda, 9.45pm, both on Abu Dhabi Sports 1