Classifieds powered by Gulf News

Zenga confident of Al Nasr evolution

Italian coach cautious after side qualifies for AFC Champions League group stages

Gulf News

Dubai: Al Nasr’s coach Walter Zenga has told his team to take it ‘one step at a time’ after reaching the group stage of the Asian Champions League.

“We can’t really look too much into the future,” the Italian told media after Al Nasr registered a 3-2 win against FC Lokomotiv of Uzbekistan to earn one of three spots on offer in the 2013 AFC Champions League, on Saturday.

“Our realistic goal now is our league match [on Friday] against Al Shabab. So right now, we need to take it one step at a time.

“We have to organise our life and our systems as from now until the end of May, we have a lot of important games and we need to take these one at a time.”

Leading 1-0 after a 30th-minute strike from Japanese Morimoto Takayuki, Al Nasr went 2-1 down in the second half thanks to two goals within five minutes from Viktor Karpenko and Akmal Holmatov. But UAE national team star Habib Al Fardan — scorer of the UAE’s winner against Vietnam last week — restored parity in the 78th minute.

Al Nasr skipper Leonardo Lima then earned his side a much-needed victory when he converted from the spot following a dubious looking penalty awarded by Japanese referee Toma Maasaki in the 89th minute.

The UAE already have league champions Al Ain and runners-up Al Jazira in the main draw for the 2013 edition of the continental competition, but after Saturday’s one-off matches they now have a full quota of four sides when the main rounds kick-off on February 26-27.

As per the draw released by the AFC, Al Shabab will join Qatar’s Lekwiya, Al Ettifaq of Saudi Arabia and Pakhtakor of Uzbekistan in Group B, while Al Nasr will be in Group C along with Sepahan of Iran, Al Gharafa of Qatar and Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia. Al Shabab open their campaign against Lekwiya on February 26, while Al Nasr will clash with Sepahan on February 27.

Zenga is not unduly worried about the prospect of pitting his team’s skills against the likes of Sepahan, Al Gharafa and Al Ahli. “I think last year was a great year of learning for the entire team,” he said. “If we had not played in the Asian Champions League last year, then we may have not won tonight.

“I am pleased with the way the team has been evolving over the past three years. I am tempted to point out that the UAE national team did not win a single match at the 2012 London Olympics but went on to win the Gulf Cup. Sometimes it is important to see how a team grows up and blooms.”