Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic has urged the club’s fans to pack the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday night as they look to secure early momentum in their battle with Al Jazira.
The two clubs are set to play each other three times in the next 10 days as this evening’s Arabian Gulf League fixture is followed by their two-legged AFC Champions League Round of 16 tie.
Both sides go into the game with their participation in Asia next season under threat with fourthplaced Jazira starting the night two points clear of their hosts in fifth.
Only the top three sides in the league are guaranteed ACL football, although Al Ain would secure their passage with victory over Al Ahli in the President’s Cup final.
That game is scheduled to take place on May 18, meaning the Boss must play six times in just two-and-a- half weeks – including a home friendly against Manchester City just three days before the showpiece.
Dalic, though, does not believe the gruelling schedule will get in the way of his side, who are currently on a seven-match unbeaten run in all competitions.
“We still have 18 days of the season left and we will play six matches that are so important for us in Arabian Gulf League, the ACL and the President’s Cup.
“We also have a friendly match against Manchester City and we want to make our fans happy. So as one family we will work on hitting our targets,” Dalic said.
“The match won’t be easy as it vital to qualification for the ACL next season, so it will be important for both teams. We will actually play to win the three points to improve our place inleague and we want to play an exciting match in front of our fans.
“I wish our fans fill the stadium to support us as we need them always next to us and the players deserve all support, especially after the past seven matches.”
While Jazira coach Walter Zenga has signalled his intention to play a reserve side in the Garden City tonight, Dalic does not appear to be about to follow suit.
Mirel Radoi, who has not played in nearly six weeks, and Alex Brosque, who limped out of last month’s ACL draw against Al Ittihad with a recurrence of an ankle injury, are both working their way back to full fitness as they target next Tuesday’s Champions League first leg in Abu Dhabi.
And Dalic does not believe too much can be read into the result of tonight’s game in terms of who will win the battle to represent the UAE in the ACL quarter-finals.
“We play three matches in a very short period against the same opponent, but our match in the league is different and it is decisive for us so we will play it to win and we know it won’t be easy,“ he said.
Zenga agreed with his opposite number, who he knows from Saudi Arabian football and labelled “a good coach and a good man”.
“It sometimes happens that you have to play three times in 10 days against the same team,” he said. “For us it’s normal. We have to think about this game and then the other one is different because it’s in the Champions League.
“Practically it is one game of 90 minutes where anything can happen and then another game of 180 minutes.”
Jazira will be without injured defenders Abdulla Mousa and Juma Abdulla for the trip to Al Ain while playmaker Abdelaziz Barrada is suspended.
However, Zenga revealed that he was already planning to give the former Getafe man a rest anyway.
“I don’t know if I am a lucky coach but the plan already was that Barrada would not play this game."
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