Superstar Wesley Sneijder to get welcome mat this week from former Ajax pal Mbark Boussoufa

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Mbark Boussoufa (c) in action for Al Jazira.

It will be a case of friends reunited in Abu Dhabi this week when Al Jazira’s Mbark Boussoufa rewinds the clock with the visit of Netherlands superstar Wesley Sneijder.

Ex-Real Madrid, Internazionale and Galatasaray attacking midfielder Sneijder, 33, represents the headline attraction in the capital for the visit of Qatar’s Al Gharafa as Group A in the 2018 AFC Champions League gets off to a glamourous start.

This meeting in a Middle East-outpost is a world away from when the celebrated pair were just teenagers in Amsterdam’s fabled Ajax Youth Academy.

Boussoufa, also 33, has gone on to make more than 350 professional appearances for the likes of Anderlecht, Anzhi Makhachkala and Arabian Gulf League champions Jazira, plus has a spot at this summer’s World Cup with Morocco in his sights. The chance to welcome a familiar face is one he intends to embrace on Monday.

“I played Wesley last season with the national team [Netherlands won a friendly 2-1 in Agadir on May 31, 2007] and it will be nice, I’ve known Wesley since I was 13-years old,” said Boussoufa in the wake of the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl in the top flight on Wednesday. “We were both in the academy [at Ajax] and he was around my age.

“It will be nice to see him. Of course, he has done very well for himself.

“I hope he is enjoying himself.”

Boussoufa has had little opportunity for “enjoying himself” during a trying title defence for Jazira.

Institutional disorder has seen coveted UAE striker Ahmed Khalil and ex-France anchorman – plus his team-mate from Anzhi and Lokomotiv Moscow – Lassana Diarra arrive last summer and exit this winter.

A rousing fourth-place finish at December’s Club World Cup on home soil helped lift spirits, yet the midweek stalemate at Wasl means the holders are a colossal 16 points off the pace.

Boussoufa could not deny the draining impact of the off-field distractions.

He said: “There are too many things going on – maybe, too many things. But okay, we are professional players. This year, we did very well at the Club World Cup.

“Not as well in the competition [AGL], but that is normal as it is always difficult to follow up one championship with another.

“That is unless you are the Chicago Bulls – and we are not.”

Jazira will hope to make the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semi-finals when they play Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday.

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Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout loophole means bans could be cut short

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Ali Mabkhout is set for a quick return for Al Jazira.

UAE superstars Ali Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman should be free to return for next week’s Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final deciders after a loophole about eligibility potentially shortened their domestic bans for infractions on national duty.

2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman, 26, and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout, 27, were given four-match suspensions on January 23 for breaking curfew the night before January 5’s Gulf Cup-final defeat to Oman.

Their bans were frozen from January 28-February 4 during the process of appeals being submitted, and then rejected.

Overage players can be registered for the Arabian Gulf Reserve League, which is designed for Under-21s.

Factoring in two games for this competition means the pair should play against Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday (Mabkhout) and at Al Wahda on Friday (Abdulrahman).

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Cheetahs squad stands tall and other Al Wasl v Al Jazira things learned

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Al Jazira forward Romarinho (r) scored at Al Wasl last night (PLC).

Stand-in striker Hassan Mohammed notched a superb late header to salvage a draw for Al Wasl against fallen champions Al Jazira, but critical ground in the Arabian Gulf League’s title race continues to be lost.

In the absences of star attackers Caio Canedo and Ali Mabkhout for both teams, Brazilian forward Romarinho’s sharp instincts had put the Pride of Abu Dhabi ahead in first-half injury-time.

Here, we examine the main talking points:

CHEETAHS KEEP THEIR BITE

A tight ship is run at Wasl, meaning the bottom line is more important than breaking budget.

Their squad is, certainly, not as deep as title rivals Al Ain or Al Wahda and the one-match ban for 12-goal striker Caio Canedo threatened to sink them against Jazira.

Instead, Cheetahs replacement Hassan Mohammed notched a fine leveller. Substitutes Anthony Caceres and Mohamed Surour turned a losing midfield battle around.

They might well have enough to keep this a three-way fight.

ONLY PRIDE TO PLAY FOR

The AGL has witnessed some wretched title defences in recent years.

Al Ain limped home sixth in 2013/14. Al Ahli finished a place (seventh) and five points worse off (38) the following season.

Current holders Jazira did surprisingly well on Wednesday night. They rattled the woodwork twice and went ahead through Romarinho’s tap-in.

But the institutional chaos which has gripped them is summed up by bargain-basement Oman internationals Harib Al Saadi and Mohammed Al Musalami coming in during a winter that saw stellar summer additions Ahmed Khalil and Lassana Diarra alarmingly exit.

They could end the round in sixth, a cavernous 16 points from the top.

Fabio De Lima (r) did not have his usual influence for Al Wasl.

Fabio De Lima (r) did not have his usual influence for Al Wasl.

RESTLESS RODOLFO

Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena cut a surprisingly skittish figure.

The ex-Argentina full-back was coiled like a spring on the touchline. A tactics board also looked like it was about to be snapped during the interval.

Maybe Jazira have this effect on him – he’s recorded no wins in five meetings. Or maybe it’s the dawning reality of a probable six-point deficit to Al Ain, with only six games left?

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