Al Ain will stick to their guns and utilise the usual “aggressive approach” when they travel to Al Rayyan, despite knowing only defeat will see the Qataris deny them hard-earned progression to the AFC Champions League’s knockout stages for a fifth-successive edition.
The Arabian Gulf League’s champions-elect drew their opening four matches in Group D – including February’s entertaining 1-1 draw with Michael Laudrup’s men at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – to leave progression up in the air. This was prior to April 2’s rollercoaster 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia nemesis Al Hilal that allowed them come into Monday’s shootout at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium with a critical one-point advantage.
“I respect the ambitions of the opposing team, but I have great confidence in my team,” said coach Zoran Mamic, who will be without banned UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed and utility midfielder Mohamed Abdulrahman.
“We look forward to a strong and honourable performance that will enable us to achieve the desired result and qualify for the Champions League knockouts.
“It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the world of football, but I would like to assure you that Al Ain always adopts an aggressive approach against all its rivals.”
Rayyan sit a distant third in the QNB Stars League. They defeated Al Ahli Doha 4-1 last week, but this victory came at a cost with 28-goal Morocco marksman Abderrazak Hamdallah coming off in just the 13th minute through injury.
Opposing hot shot Marcus Berg of Sweden demanded his club side show no mercy.
He said: “We are motivated to play and we look forward to putting in a strong performance in which we show our character in front of their supporters and announce our qualification for the next phase of the AFC Champions League.”
AL WASL V NASAF
Deflated Al Wasl have been told pride is on the line when they attempt to avoid becoming the only side to lose all six pool games in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s men have flopped badly upon their return to Asia’s top table after a decade away. Their last Group C match on Monday sees them host fellow eliminated side Nasaf of Uzbekistan.
“My relationship with the players is strong, but they know what makes me happy is fighting on the field,” said the ex-Argentina full-back.
The Pro League Committee has announced the preliminary shortlist of nominees for six Arabian Gulf League Awards categories. Voting for the nominees starts on Sunday, April 15, and closes on April 22.
A three-man shortlist based on the voting will be announced on April 23 and the winners will be announced at the Arabian Gulf League Awards ceremony on May 10.
Voting for the six categories will be available through the website www.awards.agleague.ae with participation of football experts, club captains and coaches, media and fans to select five nominees from each category.
The preliminary shortlist for the Golden Ball Award (Best Emirati Player) includes Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira); Rayan Yaslam, Omar Abdulrahman, Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem (Al Ain); Ahmed Al Yassi, Khalifa Mubarak and Mahmoud Khamis (Al Nasr); Mohammed Marzooq (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club) and Salem Al Azizi (Al Wasl).
Competing for the Golden Ball Award (Best Foreign Player) are Marcus Berg and Caio (Al Ain); Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo (Al Wasl); Sebastian Tagliabue, Mourad Batna, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Rim Chang-woo (Al Wahda); Marcelo Cirino (Al Nasr) and Romarinho (Al Jazira).
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague) April 14, 2018
The shortlist for the Leader Award (Best Coach) includes: Zoran Mamic (Al Ain), Laurentiu Reghecampf (Al Wahda), Rodolfo Arruabarrena (Al Wasl), Abdulaziz Al Anbari (Sharjah) and Henk ten Cate (Al Jazira).
The Golden Boy Award (Best Young Player, born in or after 1997) is contested between Mohammed Al Shamsi, Khaled Ibrahim, Ahmed Al Akbari and Ahmed Rashid (Al Wahda); Jassem Yaqoob (Al Nasr); Mohammed Al Attas and Zayed Al Ameri (Al Jazira); Omar Saeed (Hatta); Ali Saleh (Al Wasl) and Majed Suroor (Sharjah).
Finally, five goalkeepers compete for the Golden Glove Award, including Khalid Essa (Al Ain), Mohammed Al Shamsi (Al Wahda), Majed Nasser (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), Ahmed Shambieh (Al Nasr) and Fahad Al Dhanhani (Dibba Al Fujairah).
The nominees for these five categories were selected based on statistics by Sportradar, the statistics partner of the Pro League Committee. Player performances were evaluated based on specific criteria including position, goals scored, passing accuracy, assists, saves and fair play (disciplinary record).
The nominees for the Fans’ Player of the Year Award were chosen based on fans nominations in the first stage that lasted between April 8-12, where fans of the various AGL sides supported their favourite players through the PLC’s official social media pages.
المرشحون لجائزة الفتى الذهبي
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague) April 14, 2018
Ten players nominated in this category were Hussein El Shahat, Omar Abdulrahman and Marcus Berg (Al Ain); Mbark Boussoufa (Al Jazira); Fabio De Lima (Al Wasl); Mohammed Al Shamsi, Mourad Batna and Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda); Yasseen Mahmoud (Dibba) and Youssef Kalfa (Emirates Club).
The Arabian Gulf League Awards are divided into two sections; the vote-based awards which include the aforementioned six categories, and the stats-based awards which include the Dream Team – the Best XI of players who excelled in their positions, the Golden Shoe Award for the AGL top goalscorer, the Silver Shoe Award for the Arabian Gulf Reserve League top goalscorer, the AGL Fantasy Manager of the Season, the Club Licensing Award and the Online Content Award.
Diego Maradona praised Al Ain talisman Omar Abdulrahman as his Fujairah side gave the Arabian Gulf League champions-elect a mighty fright before going down to a brave 4-2 defeat in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.
Maradona’s men – chasing automatic promotion back to the top-flight for the first time since 2015/16 – took a shock eighth-minute lead through promising forward Mohamed Khalfan.
UAE striker Ahmed Khalil nodded the Boss level after half an hour before Hussein El Shahat’s cross was deflected in by veteran defender Hassan Ameen a minute later to make it 2-1 to the AGL league leaders at Shabal Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Al Aweer Stadium.
The Egypt midfielder then made it 3-1 before half-time to put the Garden City side in the driving seat when he superbly controlled and half-volleyed in at the back post, but defender Khaled Abdullah netted early in the second period to keep the Wolves snarling at the Al Ain door.
In an even second half, Brazilian forward Caio rounded goalkeeper Saleh Sadeq to make the game safe in stoppage time.
Argentina icon Maradona praised the spirit of his side and singled out Boss maestro Abdulrahman for special mention.
“In the first place I want to thank my players for putting up such a fight against a champion team like Al Ain,” said Maradona, the former Napoli and Barcelona magician.
“This was a big game for us against a really big team. And if at all there was one player who made all the difference, it was Omar [Abdulrahman].
“We are a small team and my one instruction to the players was to ensure that Omar doesn’t get the ball. But we were up against a quality team that is capable of winning everything including the Arabian Gulf League and every other trophy this season.”
Despite the disappointment of going out, Maradona, 57, said his players must use the defeat to bounce back into the big time next season.
“For us, this match has been an experience that we can learn from,” said the 1986 World Cup-winner.
“If you ask me now, I think Fujairah lacked the experience. We came here with an unbeaten record, but our achievement counted for nothing before a high-level team. Maybe we could have done well to play some other team. Tonight we lost to a champion side.
“If we do make it to Division One next season, you will find our team working the same way and matching the best due to the experience we have gained today.”
Al Ain counterpart Zoran Mamic was full of praise for the Wolves’ brave performance and was thankful his team escaped without any injuries or being taken to extra time.
“I will not broadcast a secret if I told you that I am very happy to get out of the game without any injuries,” said the Croatian.
“Ahmed Khalil got a kick in the ankle, but it is in a good position and he will return in the next game because he is strong and is a physically fit player.”
He added: “We were lucky that the game did not go to extra time, even though Fujairah suffered in the final moments of the game in a decline in fitness.
“I have a good experience in dealing with cup matches. When I was a trainer for Dynamo Zagreb, I met two second and third division teams and we could only win them in added time instead of the 90 minutes.”