Dubai: Al Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena has urged his side to bounce back from their 2-1 Asian Champions League (ACL) group opening defeat to Qatar’s Al Sadd on Tuesday, as it precedes Friday’s equally important Arabian Gulf League Cup quarter-finals second leg with Al Nasr.
The Cheetahs drew 2-2 at home to their Oud Mehta rivals in December’s first leg and now face an away trip from 5.30pm on Friday at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Al Awir Stadium, because Al Nasr’s ground is under renovation.
It follows Al Wasl’s midweek defeat to Al Sadd, where two late goals from Algerian forward Baghdad Bounedjah on 79 and 90 minutes cancelled out Fabio Lima’s 26th minute opener.
This game was Al Wasl’s first return to the ACL in 10 years since debuting in 2008 when they failed to get out of the group, but despite a bright start this time around, it didn’t end well.
“We made a good first half but in the second we lost possession, made two mistakes and lost the game,” said Arruabarrena.
“From the beginning we said they were more experienced than us and had different players,” the Argentine alluded to two-time ACL champions and tournament regulars Al Sadd, who boast former Barcelona star Xavi among their ranks.
He implied the visitors were also able to ring more effective changes, due to their bigger squad depth.
“For almost all our players this is the first time they have played in this competition, but they will learn from playing the best teams in Asia. We do not have too many players, but this is not the moment to speak. In three days we have a derby and have to come out quickly and start thinking about that match.
“When we fall we have to stand back up again,” he implored. “After the League Cup we play in the Champions League again, and then the Arabian Gulf League continues, but like I said, we will learn because for almost all of us, this was our first time playing here.”
Al Nasr are a different beast since Al Wasl were last held at home to their rivals in December. Italian coach Cesare Prandelli has been sacked and replaced by returning Serbian Ivan Jovanovic, who in his first spell with the club between 2013 and 2016 brought three cup titles to the table ending the side’s 25-year-wait for silverware.
Since rejoining and losing his first match away to second placed Al Wahda last month, Jovanovic has won three league games in a row. On the contrary, Al Wasl have slipped from first to third in the table with defeats at home to Al Ain and away to Al Wahda since New Year.
Like Al Wasl, league leaders Al Ain also played midweek, drawing goalless in their ACL group opener away to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. Now they must quickly get up back again for their League Cup quarters second leg away to Al Wahda on Friday.
Al Wahda are 2-1 up on aggregate following December’s first leg in Al Ain, but come in shell-shocked from their 5-0 defeat away to Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv Tashkent in their ACL group opener on Monday.
Al Jazira — who were the only UAE-side to post a win in the ACL group openers with a 3-2 victory over Qatar’s Al Gharafa on Monday — will play Dibba at home in the League Cup quarters second leg on Thursday looking to fight back from December’s 3-1 first leg away defeat.
And in Thursday’s other quarter-final second leg, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club host Hatta, whom they beat 3-0 away in the first leg.
It goes without saying that teams not involved in midweek ACL games — Al Nasr, Shabab Ahli, Hatta and Dibba — will be better rested and prepared for their domestic cup exploits this weekend.
Arabian Gulf League Cup
Quarter-finals, second leg
Shabab Ahli vs Hatta (3-0 agg) Rashid Stadium, 5.30pm
Al Jazira vs Dibba (1-3 agg) Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium, 8.00pm
Al Nasr vs Al Wasl (2-2 agg) Al Awir Stadium, 5.30pm
Al Wahda vs Al Ain (2-1 agg) Zayed Sports City Stadium, 8.00pm