Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club Al Aweer Stadium is set for an intriguing clash on Thursday when the Arabian Gulf League’s champions-elect and UAE’s most-decorated club face promotion hopefuls from First Division League, who possess one of football’s grandees in their dugout.
The ineffable World Cup 1986 winner has guided the Wolves to an undefeated debut campaign, but 10 draws – the latest being Friday’s 2-2 stalemate with Masfut – sees them clinging on to an automatic spot in second.
Mamic lauded his Argentinian opponent’s legendary achievements on the pitch, but insists he’ll be keeping focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet him and, of course, he’s one of the best players of all time in the world,” said the ex-Croatia international. “It’s a big, big pleasure for me.
“But I have my job, he has his job and I will try to do mine better.”
Another challenge for Mamic is being able to select only two of his usual four foreign players, to match Fujairah’s limited quota. Sweden No9 Marcus Berg is the most likely to be rested ahead of Monday’s 2018 AFC Champions League decider in Group D at Qatar’s Al Rayyan.
In the opposite corner, Maradona – who last coached Al Wasl in 2011/12 – lavished praise on this week’s favourites.
He said: “The quarter-final against Al Ain is a valuable gift and a good test for my own team’s abilities.
“This because Al Ain are at the forefront of the Emirati clubs and has a reputation at both a local and Asian level.”
SHABAB AL AHLI DUBAI CLUB V SHARJAH
Boss Mahdi Ali has challenged his Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club squad to maintain a chance of being able to “write their names into the history of the club” when they battle Sharjah in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.
The competition provides the sole remaining possibility of salvaging silverware from a trying inaugural campaign. This is also the situation for Thursday’s opposition at Ajman’s Rashid bin Saeed Stadium, who also consumed Al Shaab last May.
“We hope to win the title,” said ex-UAE coach Ali. “If they do this, they will write their names into the history of the club.”
The King have been resurgent since club stalwart Abdulaziz Al Anbari was finally given a permanent shot at leading them after Portugal’s Jose Peseiro was sacked in October.
The Emirati has guided a side threatened with relegation upon arrival to just one spot and two points behind fifth-place Shabab Al Ahli in the Arabian Gulf League.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi have not lived up to their nickname this term. A pair of meetings in January saw a 4-2 home loss incurred by the holders in the Arabian Gulf League, plus a 2-0 reversal in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
The 2015/16 President’s Cup winners are determined to halt this run at Bani Yas Stadium.
“The morale is very high among us all, and we will not be content to lose three times [to Wahda] in a single season,” said ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant Ten Cate of the meeting with last season’s champions.
“I have absolute confidence in the players’ ability to live up to this great challenge and we are determined to show the true character of Al Jazira in the President’s Cup.
“We have lost to Al Wahda because of different circumstances and because of some individual mistakes in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup match, but the situation will be very different.
“This is because each game is different from the previous, and because we are determined this time to win and qualify for the next round.”
Meanwhile, boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena is not getting carried away after Al Wasl corrected their abrupt slide at the weekend.
The Cheetahs beat Ajman 2-0 in the top flight to claim just a second victory from 11 games in all competitions. They next face minnows Dibba Al Fujairah at Emirates Club Stadium in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.
Arruabarrena said: “After the return of the injured players, we performed well and we won the last game in the league at Ajman.
“But overall, I care about the results we have achieved throughout the season in all the competitions we have participated in.”
There were incredible displays and stunning moments of genius at both ends of the table in the Arabian Gulf League this weekend.
Here are the standout performers:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda)
In the nine years of professionalism in the UAE, it has been lucky to be graced by several supreme strikers.
Ricardo Oliveira, Asamoah Gyan and Grafite are just three men who have left an indelible mark on the country and competition. But the king of them all is still plying his trade here.
Tagliabue’s 30-minute hat-trick in the 3-2 triumph at Sharjah was utterly characteristic. All three were predatory efforts as Wahda kept the pressure up on leaders Al Ain.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Fabio De Lima (Al Wasl)
Is there anything the fabulously talented Brazilian forward can’t do?
In a season that has contained 19 strikes in the AGL, his effort at promoted Ajman will live long.
The 24-year-old got the ball under pressure on the right-hand side of the penalty box. He then twisted, turned and flicked the ball before launching an unstoppable shot into the top corner.
This goal inspired the Cheetahs to a first league win in six games. Too late to salvage their top-three hopes?
COACH OF THE WEEK
Nizar Mahrous (Emirates Club)
The Syrian must have had a wry smile after this round.
Cut loose by Hatta early last month, he gratefully accepted the emergency call from fellow strugglers Emirates Club during the international break.
Upon the return to action, doomed Hatta recorded a fifth loss in succession. But the Falcons flew high, Sebastian Saez plundering a late, enlivening winner against Al Jazira.
Hope abounds that the new man can engender the surge required to secure a sixth-successive top-flight campaign.
BATTLE AT THE BOTTOM
With the title all-but sewn up, attention now slides towards the scrap against relegation.
A play-off system is expected to be applied to allow for the return to a 14-team competition for 2018/19. The bottom two will automatically drop to First Division League, while the current ninth and 10th-placed go into the lottery of a play-off versus the FDL’s third and fourth-placed finishers,
The pressure will be at maximum next time out when second-bottom Emirates Club play 10th-placed Dibba Al Fujairah in a fortnight’s time.