(MENAFN - Muscat Daily) Three days after Hicham Jadrane resigned as Fanja coach, the Omani club faces an uphill task in the AFC Cup as it takes on Syrian side Al Jaish in a must-win Group B clash at the Seeb Sports Stadium on Wednesday.
The match kicks off at 7pm.
Spain's Jadrane stepped down citing medical reasons, and though the club declined to comment on Tuesday on his sudden departure, the unexpected development could affect the eight-time domestic champion's morale in its penultimate group league game.
Fanja suffered two back to back losses in the Omantel Professional League (OPL) in the lead-up to Wednesday's AFC Cup game. However, Fanja's interim coach Mohsin al Kharusi put up a brave face at the pre-match press conference on Tuesday, promising that his players will try to get their act together in order to advance to the knockout stage of the second-tier continental club tournament.
''This is a crucial match for us. Not only do we have to win, but we also hope that hosts Kuwait SC beat Nejmeh in the other match in our group [to be played on the same day],'' Kharusi said.
Defending champion Kuwait SC is on top of the four-nation group with nine points.
It is followed by Lebanon's Nejmeh and Fanja; both have five points each, but the former leads on head-to-head basis after it won 1-0 at home. The top two teams from the group will advance to the knockout stage.
Al Jaish is at the bottom with two points, but still has a slender chance of making it to the knockout stage. It has to win its last two games and will then have to hope Nejmeh and Fanja lose their concluding games.
Fanja visits Kuwait SC for its final Group B game on April 23.
Kharusi said, ''Al Jaish are a strong side, there's no denying that. They stuck to a defensive gameplan throughout the tournament, so we have
Prepared accordingly. If they change their gameplan and push forward, it will eventually be good for us. It would give ample space to our attackers to break through their defence.''
Fanja doesn't have too many injury worries, although midfielder Ahmed Hadeed and Cameroonian striker Ely Cisse are in slight doubt due to niggles. Kharusi said the duo would be given the go-ahead only after consultation with the team doctor on Wednesday.
Speaking about Fanja's recent slump in the OPL, Kharusi said, ''We shouldn't mix up the OPL with the AFC Cup. Each competition is distinct and our playing style varies according to the tournament. There have been certain problems that we have been trying to tackle in the domestic league, but in the AFC Cup, we are taking on foreign clubs; the boys are 100 per cent prepared and upbeat.''
Al Jaish coach Anas Makhlouf, too, is eyeing nothing short of a victory, stressing on the need to ride the team's ongoing momentum and progress to the knockout stage.
''We have had good preparation back home for this game, but our boys are a bit tired due to constant travel,'' Makhlouf said.
''Nevertheless, we will give our best. Fanja are looking vulnerable right now with two straight losses in the domestic league, so we will try to capitalise on that and try our best to secure a win.''
Meanwhile, Oman's other team in the AFC Cup, Al Suwaiq, will travel to Dushanbe, Tajikistan, to play FC Ravshan in a Group A game.
Suwaiq is in third place with three points from three outings and needs to beat the bottom-placed Tajik club (zero points) if it hopes to remain alive in the competition for a place in the knockout round. Lebanon's Safa SC leads the group with 12 points and has already made it to the knockout round. Jordan's That Ras is in second place with nine points and a draw against Safa on Wednesday will see it though to the next