Abu Dhabi: Henk ten Cate, the Al Jazira coach, believes his buoyant side are reaping the benefits of their intense pre-season training camps in Germany and the Netherlands.
He says Jazira’s unbeaten start to the season owes largely to improved fitness, which has allowed the Pride of Abu Dhabi to “overwhelm” teams in the second half of matches.
Jazira lie fourth in the Arabian Gulf League after two games, a place above Saturday’s opponents Sharjah, and third in Group A of the Arabian Gulf Cup after two wins and two draws.
Ten Cate is hugely encouraged by such positive results after last season’s underwhelming campaign, when the 2014-15 AGL runners-up finished seventh.
“Al Jazira have been showing a distinct level of improvement in the second half of games because of the preparatory work done in Germany and the Netherlands,” said Ten Cate at his pre-match press conference ahead of Saturday’s game with Sharjah at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi. “Everyone is making a big effort in training and this is clearly reflected in higher fitness. This is helping us overwhelm our opponents in the second half when they lose the ball.
“But we need to start games with the same power as we do in the second half.”
Despite his optimism, the Dutchman is wary of the threat posed by Sharjah, who spent big in the summer under new coach Giorgos Donis.
“Sharjah at the moment offer attacking football which is completely different to last season when they were dependent on counter-attacks and their defence,” he said. “It will be a tough game for us, but we have shown great spirit in the last few games.”
Ten Cate will be without his right-back, Mohammad Fawzi, due to an injury picked up in the UAE’s 3-1 victory over Thailand last week.
He also intends to speak to another of his UAE players, the striker Ali Mabkhout, to help him “get over the frustration” of the shattering 3-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
“We need to check his physical state as well, as he hasn’t trained with the team lately,” he said. “We will make every effort to return him to the ideal physical and mental state, because he’s a very important player for the team.”
Meanwhile, Ten Cate’s first-choice goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, who missed the UAE’s 2018 World Cup qualifying double-header due to injury, has declared himself fit for Saturday’s game.
ARABIAN GULF LEAGUE
Al Dhafra vs Al Wahda, 5.15pm