x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

UAE Pro League clubs have no excuse for poor results in Asian Champions League

Cramped schedules cannot be reason for UAE's top football clubs to perform poorly as their opponents play as many matches.

Like other UAE Pro League clubs, Al Ain, in white and purple, have struggled in the Asian Champions League, going down to Esteghlal in their most recent match. Vahid Salemi / AP Photo
Like other UAE Pro League clubs, Al Ain, in white and purple, have struggled in the Asian Champions League, going down to Esteghlal in their most recent match. Vahid Salemi / AP Photo

The Pro League clubs have made another disappointing start in Asia. The four UAE representatives in the Champions League – Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Nasr and Al Shabab – have played eight matches and, together, they have a tally of four points from a possible 24.

If you compare that with the returns of teams from neighbouring countries, the Pro League seems a poor cousin. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have four clubs each, as well, and they have earned 14 and nine points, respectively.

Iran have three teams in the competition and two of them – Tractor Sazi and Esteghlal – are leading their groups. Together, Iran's three teams have collected 11 points from a possible 18.

Uzbekistan have only two representatives – Pakhtakor and Bunyodkor – and both of them are at the top of their groups, collecting 10 points from a possible 12.

The group stage is only one-third complete, and much could change before we learn which two clubs from each quartet will reach the last 16. But, honestly, can we expect much from the UAE teams?

The Pro League leaders Al Ain could possibly make the grade as they already have three points from the 3-1 win over Al Hilal in their opening game, and their defeat came in Tehran, the most difficult venue in the competition.

But the others, it seems, appear heading for elimination.

Al Shabab, who have lost both their matches, are making their third appearance in the Champions League since the tournament was relaunched in 2009.

In their previous two appearances, they had two wins and nine points from 12 games. Al Nasr, who have also lost twice, are making their second appearance and they had two wins from six games in 2012.

Al Ain, the champions of Asia in 2003, had 14 points and four wins in their two previous appearances.

Al Jazira are making their fifth consecutive appearance and, though they topped their group last year, their returns in the other three appearances have been dismal: one win and 10 points from 18 matches.

Among the other UAE teams to participate in the competition, Baniyas did well last season, reaching the last 16, but the others have been disappointing. Al Ahli have one win and six points from their 12 matches in Asia, while Al Wahda managed two wins and nine points from their two appearances.

Emirates also represented the UAE in Asia in 2011, while Sharjah brought shame to the country by withdrawing midway through their group engagements in 2009.

Since 2009, then, only twice have UAE teams progressed beyond the group stages - Baniyas and Jazira last year - and on eight occasions they have finished at the bottom of their group. In 2010, all four UAE representatives - Jazira, Ahli, Wahda and Al Ain - finished at the bottom of the table.

Why do the Pro League clubs struggles in Asia? If you believe our coaches, it is the absence of luck, refereeing or the intimidating atmosphere at visiting stadiums.

At times, they blame the scheduling as well.

But as Abdullah Al Junaibi, the chairman of the Pro League's technical committee, has repeatedly pointed out, local clubs are not playing any more matches than clubs in neighbouring countries.

Another common refrain is about the "experience of participating" in Asia. But when do we see the benefits of this "experience" bearing fruit?

At a time when the national team is marching towards newer frontiers under Mahdi Ali, Pro League clubs' performances in Asia are a blot on the country's football.

The UAE are the Gulf Cup champions and there is no reason why local clubs should compare so poorly to those of Saudi Arabia or Qatar.

arizvi@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE