Abu Dhabi: One match at a time. That’s how Jurgen Streppel, the Al Jazira manager, wants his men to make an impact in the 2019/2020 Arabian Gulf League, which begins on Thursday at four venues across the UAE. Three more games will be played on Friday, completing Match Day 1 as all 14 top-flight teams swing into action.
Two-time winners since the league turned professional in 2008, Al Jazira host Abu Dhabi rivals Al Dhafra in their opening match at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in the UAE capital (kick-off 6.45pm).
And while most expect the game to be a cakewalk for Streppel’s men, the former Heerenveen manager says he will not throw caution to the wind and has warned his men not to get ahead of themselves.
“We cannot wait for the competition to start. We just had a great meeting and talk and we are ready to play,” said Streppel, who took over in the summer from his out of contract compatriot Damien Hertog.
“It won’t be easy. We will take it game by game and we will not look beyond Al Dhafra at this stage. We want to win every game and when we play we will play to win and right now it’s about Al Dhafra.”
Al Jazira have been busy shopping during the off-season and acquired the services of Brazilian forward Marcos Keno on loan from Egyptian side Pyramids, while South Africa international and former Ajax midfielder Thulani Serero joins from Vitesse Arnhem. Striker Mourad Batna has moved in from Al Wahda, while defender Milos Kosanovic arrives from Belgian side Standard Liege.
Among their star signings is UAE playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman, the former Al Ain man arriving after a short stint with Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal.
Asked if he felt any pressure heading into the game with Al Dhafra, Streppel said: “Pressure is what you put on yourself and not something that’s put on you from the outside.
“We have a goal and that is to go game by game and win game after game. No big stars can win a league, they can win you a game, but only a team can win a league. I’ve told my players that from time to time.
“I am very happy with the squad and their energy. Their level is good but we need time to play our best football. The boys want to play.”
Al Dhafra too are raring to go with coach Vik Rasovic declaring “our preparations have been going very well”.
“We have been working hard and will give our 100 per cent in the game, there’s no doubt about that,” the Serbian manager said.
Elsewhere on Thursday, promoted Hatta face last year’s AGL runners-up Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, who will be looking to rebound from last week’s defeat by Sharjah in the one-off Arabian Gulf Super Cup. Shabab coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena said: “We have a good squad, but it’s just a matter of bringing their best game to the field and giving ourselves the best chance.”
Ajman visit Bani Yas, while champions Sharjah host promoted Khor Fakkan.
Friday’s games will see Al Ain host Kalba and Al Wahda make the long journey to Fujairah, while the Bur Dubai derby is the late game and features Al Nasr taking on visiting Al Wasl at the Maktoum Stadium.
The writer is a sports journalist based in Dubai