x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Zenga plays confidence game with Al Jazira

Capital side hope to build on earning first win at home in league

The UAE striker Ali Mabkhout, left, is expected to return tonight for Al Jazira against Baniyas. Abdullateef Al Marzouqi / Al Ittihad
The UAE striker Ali Mabkhout, left, is expected to return tonight for Al Jazira against Baniyas. Abdullateef Al Marzouqi / Al Ittihad

ABU DHABI // A pivotal area Al Jazira coach Walter Zenga has emphasised in the past four days before their away match at Baniyas is the lost confidence of his players.

Jazira bounced back from a 1-0 loss to Al Wahda in the President’s Cup to record their first home win in the Arabian Gulf League this season, a 1-0 win over Emirates at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last Saturday.

Zenga said it was not the best game they had played, but the three points earned are a positive they can take into their match on Thursday night against Baniyas.

“We trained a bit differently in preparing for this match and one key factor was to restore the confidence in the team,” he said.

“We lacked consistency in the games we’ve played under me so far. We played some good football at times and sometimes didn’t play true to our potential. Sometimes, we haven’t been lucky in terms of the end result.

“It’s been a mixture of sorts and created doubts on their true abilities. I can’t see anything wrong with the players, but the lack of consistency could be mental.

“The players have to have the killer instinct to win games. I am sure they can achieve that with more confidence and when they start believing in their abilities, which we have done in the past few days.”

Zenga will not have the services of Nelson Valdez, the Paraguayan international, who will serve a one-match ban for earning three yellow cards, and the injured Emirati international Khamis Ismail.

The good news is that Ali Mabkhout, the UAE forward who suffered a hamstring injury in their 2-1 defeat to Al Nasr three weeks ago, is back to lead the attack with the Brazilian Ricardo Oliveira.

Zenga has not ruled out giving a youngster or two the opportunity to start, as he did against Emirates by playing Khalfan Al Rezzy and Ahmed Rabea, each of them 18 years old.

“We have a rotation policy to provide young players as many playing opportunities as possible, because we are also thinking of building a team for the future,” he said.

“It can be in this game or the next game, but whenever possible we will try to have them in the line-up. I want to see everyone fighting for their places in the line-up.”

A point separates Jazira and Baniyas, who occupy the seventh and eighth spots on the points table, respectively. Zenga expects a backlash from their opponents after suffering consecutive defeats to Al Dhafra in the President’s Cup and Sharjah in league play.

“They are on the back of two disappointing results and will certainly want to give something back to their fans when they play us,” he said. “Luis Farina and Carlos Munoz are dangerous players, and Nawaf Mubarak has been playing an influential role in the midfield and the set pieces.

“We are ready for them, though, and we will play to our own strengths and try to exploit some of their weaknesses.”

Baniyas will be without the UAE midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, still recovering from a knee injury.

Al Wahda v Al Dhafra

Al Wahda will be keen to end their seven-match winless run when they meet Al Dhafra at the Al Nahyan Stadium.

The Abu Dhabi club are lagging in 10th place on 11 points, four behind Dhafra, after 10 games. In their last game, Wahda surrendered a 2-0 lead and drew 2-2 against Ajman, and they face a lot of defencive work if they want to stop leaking goals and end the win drought.

Wahda have collected five points from their last seven games in the Arabian Gulf League.

Al Nasr v Ajman

Ivan Jovanovic, the Al Nasr coach, has called for consistency from his players as they try to bounce back from a 2-0 loss at Al Shabab.

“We have played a couple good games and then had an ordinary one, and obviously our objective will be to win the three points in this game,” he said. “Our task won’t be easy, because Ajman is not weaker than any other team, but we will make maximum effort to win.”

Ajman are near the bottom of the table and face a tough fight to stay up this season.