Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate has refused to be distracted by the doubts which surround playmaker Thiago Neves’ reunion with Al Hilal ahead of Tuesday’s key AFC Champions League meeting.
The bottom-placed Pride of Abu Dhabi desperately need a result at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium against the Saudi Arabian giants after they lost both opening Group C fixtures to Iran’s Tractor Sazi.
They will hope to unleash an inspired Neves, 31, against the side who sold him for ¤11 million (Dh44.9 million) last summer.
But a fitness problem meant Ten Cate was just concentrating in the build-up on the players definitely ready to play.
“It’s like this, I like to focus on the players I do have available,” the former Chelsea and Barcelona
“I will hear from the doctor who is ready to play, who’s not. That’s where my focus is and not on the players I cannot use.”
Neves is remembered fondly by the Crescent after two trophy-laden spells from 2009-11 and 2013-15, scoring 51 goals in 104 games. He has yet to consistently show his quality in the UAE, his seven goals and six assists doing little as his new club sit a disappointing seventh in the Arabian Gulf League.
The seven-times-capped Brazil international declared he would have no split loyalty if he featured on Tuesday.
He said: “This will be special playing against Hilal but my colours now are red and black, so I will have to do my best to beat them.
“We have a chance to qualify. The group is very strong but we have a chance to qualify but we have to play every game like a final.”
An appalling start to continental competition has made Jazira one of four teams yet to gain a point and one of three yet to score a goal. The portents are not good for this spell ending, as they have not managed a win in six previous home meetings with Saudi Arabian clubs.
Ten Cate hopes some home viewing has provided the background knowledge to get one over Hilal.
He said: “Al Hilal are one of the best teams in Asia for years. I think they’re the best team in our group.
“In the apartment building I live in I have the (TV) station, so I see them a lot. They are a fantastic team. So it’s going to be hard, but we are not so easy to beat.”
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