Al Nasr boss Jovanovic throws down gauntlet to his players

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Confident: Ivan Jovanovic.

The knockout stage debutants in the AFC Champions League will take to the pitch to begin their 2016/17 domestic commitments just over a week since a 3-0 hammering of El Jaish in Qatar made them perfectly placed to seal a spot in the semi-finals.

“Pre-season is over and the season is about to start so official games like the Arabian Gulf Cup are very useful for us, especially with the AFC Champions League second leg coming up,” the Serbian said of the return match in Dubai on September 14.

“It’s also important that with players missing due to national duty that others can participate and get some games.”

Fellow 2016 ACL quarter-finalists Al Ain are set to be heavily depleted when they welcome yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

“We’re going to be missing seven key (UAE) players,” said coach Zlatko Dalic.

“We hope to complete our preparations for the Lokomotiv Tashkent (second leg) without injuries.”

Friday’s final game sees promo-ted Hatta make their competition bow at Al Dhafra.

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Sow set for Fener return

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In and out: Moussa Sow.

The 30-year-old was acquired to great fanfare during September 2015, his Dh70m fee making him the biggest signing in the history of the Arabian Gulf League.

The Senegal forward went onto score 13 times in 24 games as the top-flight crown was secured, yet rumours linking him with a switch back to the Istanbul giants never ceased.

Both L’Equipe in his native France and publications such as Fanatik in Turkey stated yesterday a deal for the entirety of 2016/17 was close to being sealed. This would see Dh14.3m paid to reacquire a player who notched 60 goals during 144 appearances from 2011-15, winning the 2013/14 Super Lig and two Turkish Cups.

Sow added to the rumours last night when he teasingly tweeted “Tic-tac Tic-tac”, plus an emoji of an airplane. The move would leave a spot vacant in the AGL champions’ fourplayer foreign quota, with only two weeks remaining until their defence gets under way against Emirates Club on September 17.

Meanwhile, cost-cutting exercises in the First Division League have seen the clubs agree to use only one non-Emirati player from 2017/18. The decision was made at the General Assembly of the UAE Football Association on Sunday.

Budget problems have bedevilled the second division in recent years, with only nine competing during a truncated 2015/16. This number has been boosted to 12 for the upcoming season.

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AGL star handed four-year doping ban

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Banned: Ahmed Sulaiman (r).

Al Shabab’s plans for the new season have been rocked after first-choice full-back Ahmed Sulaiman was hit with a four-year ban by the National Anti-Doping Committee.

Sulaiman, 29, returned a positive sample following April 22’s 3-1 triumph against Emirates Club in the Arabian Gulf League. Pending the success of any potential appeal, this ruling means he will not play professional football again this decade.

“Tests proved the existence of doping substances in a sample of the Al Shabab player, these being dietary supplements,” 24.ae quoted a statement by the NADC.

The announcement will come as a blow to new coach Fred Rutten, who is set to make his competitive bow during Saturday’s Arabian Gulf Cup-clash against Dibba Al Fujairah.

Sulaiman was a key performer for the Dutchman’s predecessor Caio Junior, after his summer 2016 switch from Al Dafra. He made 28 appearances across all competitions, during which no goals were scored by him.

The Hawks failed to make any comment on Monday about the matter on their social media accounts or website.

The Dubai-outfit had looked in excellent shape to improve on last term’s disappointing fifth-placed finish in the top flight and failure to build on their 2014/15 GCC Club Cup-success.

Ex-PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord supremo Rutten has added glitz to the dugout, while they have recruited impressively in the foreign market.

Argentine attacking midfielder Tomas De Vincenti was brought in as a €3m (Dhs12.3m) replacement for stalwart Carlos Villanueva, while Ruud Boymans’ record of 19 goals in 24 games for FC Utrecht shows he should solve their problem striking position.

Shabab have retained Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor and Uzbekistan defensie midfielder Azizbek Haydarov. They have been quiet in the domestic market, only added Dubai CSC prospect Mohammed Ibrahim.

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