Excitement for the new Arabian Gulf League season will ramp up from tomorrow with the Pro League Committee announcing its fixtures for the 2017/18 campaign.
The draw will be conducted in the press conference room of the UAE Football Association’s headquarters in Al Khawaneej, Dubai, at 16:30.
All eyes will be on reigning AGL champions Al Jazira as well as the opening day fate of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club following the merger between Al Shabab, Al Ahli and Dubai CSC in May.
For the first time since 2011/12, the top flight will also drop down to 12 teams – with newly promoted Ajman the only fresh faces.
The new season of domestic action in the UAE will kick-off with a reformatted Arabian Gulf Cup on September 4. It will now be played out in two groups of six, with the top four from each meeting in the quarter-finals, which will be two-legged, as well as the semi-finals, before a one-off final.
progress to the two-legged quarter-final and on to a two-legged semi-final then the one-legged final.
Previously, only the first two teams progressed from the pools straight to the semi-finals – with hopes the new format will attract stronger crowds and increase competition.
Elsewhere, an Abu Dhabi derby Arabian Gulf Super Cup between league champions Jazira and President’s Cup winners Al Wahda will take place on September 15 – a decision on venue remains to be made.
The top-flight entertainment begins a day later, with all domestic play set to end on April 29 to give time for World Cup 2018 preparation.
Al Ain and their opponents will be the only teams to feature in AG Cup action on September 4 because of the Boss’ commitments in the 2017 AFC Champions League’s quarter-finals. The rest of the participants will take to the field on September 8 and 9.
Another alteration for next term is the introduction of online ticket sales. This is viewed as an important method of increased revenue generation as the competition moves away from hard ticket sales.
Like the AG Cup, the AGL draw will also take place in two stages, the first including the top six teams from last season while the second includes the teams ranked seventh to 12th.
Arabian Gulf League champions Al Jazira have beaten away strong competition for Romarinho from Qatar’s Al Rayyan, and will soon add the electric Brazilian forward to their intimidating four-player foreign quota, after he arrived late on Wednesday night at their Netherlands training camp.
Romarinho, 26, has been doggedly pursued by the ambitious Pride of Abu Dhabi all summer. His allure has been added to by the fact he is available on a free transfer after all El Jaish contracts were cancelled in the wake of April’s merger with fellow Doha-outfit Lekhwiya.
But while ex-France defensive midfielder Lassana Diarra, UAE striker Ahmed Khalil and Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov – a former Jaish colleague – had all gathered with their new team-mates in Europe, talks with the target who possesses 40 goals in 72 Qatar Stars League run-outs ebbed and flowed.
Jazira feared earlier this week that a move to Rayyan and the potential for gaining dual Qatari/Brazilian citizenship from 2019 would scupper their dreams. Now, the free agent – who has excelled since a €7.5 million (Dh36.2m) move from Corinthians in September 2014 – has landed to seal the deal.
In the domestic market, Jazira hold a passing interest in wantaway Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club centre-back Mohammed Ali Ayed, but expect him to rejoin Al Ain.
Ayed, 26, is in dispute with the amalgamated side’s management and has demanded a free transfer. He went on to make 69 top-flight appearances for Al Shabab after he left the Garden City four years ago.
Meanwhile, Manchester City-owned Australian midfielder Anthony Caceres has reportedly flown into Dubai to seal a permanent switch to Al Wasl.
Caceres, 24, has been lent to sister club Melbourne City since the Premier League giants signed him for £145,000 (Dh763,211) in January 2016 from Central Coast Mariners. The Sydney Morning Herald has stated he is now set to fill the Asian berth for the 2018 AFC Champions League qualifiers.
Melbourne’s loan deal for Stefan Mauk from NAC Breda and pursuit of Australia playmaker James Troisi has forced him to look elsewhere.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Jeddah have emerged as leading contenders to seal the signature of prolific Partizan Belgrade forward Leonardo, ending lingering hopes of a switch to the Arabian Gulf League.
Leonardo, 25, has been of interest to both Al Ain and Al Nasr at various stages of this summer after his representatives offered him to leading clubs across the region for a fee in excess of €5 million (Dh21.5m). This follows a productive debut campaign during which he netted 24 times in 34 appearances as Crno-beli – The Black-Whites – lifted an eighth Serbian Super Liga.
A desire to earn a lucrative switch elsewhere saw Partizan agree to sell him once their fate in the UEFA Champions League qualifiers is sealed. Their third-round tie against Greece’s Olympiacos begins late on Tuesday night.
Ahly have made major head way to ensure they will snap Leonardo up before August 6’s deadline to be registered for the latter stages of the 2017 AFC Champions League.
Al Ain had investigated making the former Anzhi Makhachkala attacker their fourth foreigner, but Partizan’s financial demands allied with doubts about the player’s calibre saw coach Zoran Mamic announce an intention to re-register Brazilian striker Douglas two weeks ago.
Nasr also expressed interest to Leonardo’s representatives. Yet they have been subsequently linked to unwanted Internacional loanee Marcelo Cirino.
Meanwhile, Al Ain outcast Danilo Asprilla looks likely to find a new home at promoted Saudi Professional League-outfit Al Fayha.
Asprilla, 28, did not travel to Austria with his team-mates for an ongoing summer training camp after he was ruled surplus to requirements. The erratic Colombian winger had been in negotiations about a €1.5m (Dh6.4m) exit to Turkey’s Bursaspor, prior to them collapsing this week.
Reports in the Kingdom have stated Fayha have stepped into the breach for the January 2016 signing from Bulgaria’s Litex Lovech.