Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate being a shrewd tactician, knows how to make the most of his limited resources.
On Monday, his ploy, paid high dividends as Al Jazira won their opening Group A fixture of the AFC Champions League against Wesley Sneijder-led Al Gharafa 3-2 at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium on Monday.
Ten Cate was all praise for his young brigade who rose to the challenge when the opportunity was tossed up to them.
Ten Cate, in the absence of few of his key players, asked Mohammad Al Attas to play the role of a central defender and the 20-year-old came up with a standout performance playing in tandem with another youngster, Khalifa Al Hammadi.
“It was a very exciting game and I think we played really good, especially the young guys Al Attas and Al Hammadi,” Ten Cate said. “They really played a good game and I really enjoyed watching them. For the first time at this level and then a performance like this is really great.”
Al Jazira won thanks to goals from Brazilian Romarinho, Ali Mabkhout and Ahmad Hussain Al Hashmi.
Along with some outstanding defending, what stood out for Al Jazira was the work done by their ever-reliable goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, who was once again in sublime form.
“It was a crazy game and could have been easily 7-4 for us because I think we created more chances,” said Ten Cate. “They had a few chances, but we had a fantastic goalkeeper in Khaseif, who brought out an excellent save towards the end to give us three points.
“I’m very happy given the circumstances we were in.
“The team spirit is absolutely high at the moment. This is what brings us wins. We stick together as a group and this is a group that wants to fight for the team. We need players like this.”
Ten Cate expressed displeasure over the scheduling of the local tournament fixtures. Al Jazira are scheduled to play seven games back-to-back in the coming weeks and Ten Cate feels it will be hard to keep up the momentum.
“We cannot guarantee that every game we will have the same intensity,” he said. “So tomorrow we train and we play the quarter-finals for the Arabian Gulf Cup. Then one day later we travel to Saudi to play for the AFC on the 19th, then when we come back we play the 22nd.
“I have a very small group of players. Last year we skipped the Champions League before the start itself and focused on the league. This year we said we will focus on the Champions League so hopefully we can have the intensity, but with 14 players it is kind of difficult.”
Al Jazira’s ace striker Ali Mabkhout, the man of the match, said: “The effort was collective and more than being the best player, I feel we managed to win those crucial three points.
“I agree that today’s match will give extra boost for the coming matches. We have a young team and the most important thing for us is to keep winning our home game. We will also need to focus hard on the away games. And to do that we have to take one match at a time.”
Ten Cate added: “Not every game is carnival; some time you put all the three opportunities in and sometimes you don’t. But, for me Mabkhout is not MVP tonight because I know what he is capable off. Sometimes I think he should realise he is a striker. What I mean is, he is sometimes too modest to give the ball to others rather than shooting himself. He needs to be more selfish.”