Ittihad Kalba plans to shed yo-yo AGL reputation begins with signing of Florentin Matei

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Florentin Matei in action.

Yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba’s plans for their latest Arabian Gulf League-return have begun to take shape with the signing of Romanian midfielder Florentin Matei from Croatia’s Rijeka on a one-year deal.

Matei, 25, is this summer’s first foreign addition by the First Division League’s runners-up. Their success last term under Iraq’s 2007 Asian Cup-winning coach Jorvan Vieira extended a lengthy period of instant promotions and relegations that stretches back to 2009/10.

To end this frustrating spell, a positive impact from the non-Emirati quartet will be key.

Matei arrives on the east coast after he scored four times in 13 matches on loan at Astra Giurgiu, who finished fifth in Romania’s Liga 1.

He had previously struck seven times in 52 games at Rijeka since arriving from the Ukrainian Premier League’s Volyn Lutsk. Italy’s Cesena, plus Romania’s Unirea Urziceni and Steaua Bucharest, also count among his previous employers.

Junior international caps were also won with his nation’s Under-17 (two) and U-19 (three) sides between 2010-11.

His latest side have secured a one-season contract extension with Vieira, 64, to lead them back into the top flight. The Brazilian took over in January and critically inspired a six-match winning run at the end of the season to pip Diego Maradona’s Fujairah to an automatic spot.

Kalba brought in Moroccan attackers Abderrahim Makran and Omar Mansouri on loan for the second half of the season. No announcement has been made about whether the pair will be retained.

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Promoted AGL side Fujairah pull off coup with signing of Hatta star Fernando Gabriel

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Fernando Gabriel (r) in action for Hatta (PLC).

Promoted Fujairah have announced the impressive capture of prolific Hatta attacking midfielder Fernando Gabriel.

Gabriel, 30, excelled last term despite the sorry Tornado finishing bottom of the Arabian Gulf League. He struck an outstanding 10 times in 16 top-flight matches and notched once against the – evidently impressed – Wolves in this month’s tense two-legged promotion/relegation play-off.

This stellar form led to a scramble for the Brazilian’s signature that also featured Sharjah and Dibba Al Fujairah. Superior financial terms tipped the balance towards the side who are preparing for their first campaign outside First Division League since 2015/16.

Fujairah previously inked a one-year deal for Al Shabab Riyadh forward Mohammed Benyettou. The Algerian had struck 22 times in 57 Saudi Professional League fixtures.

Argentine forward Danilo Carando and French midfielder Omar Kossoko are not expected to be retained in the four-player foreign quota.

No decision has been made yet about whether Dr Abdullah Misfer will lead them into the AGL. The ex-Dibba Al Fujairah, Al Dhafra and UAE Under-23 tactician took over from Diego Maradona after a saga about the Argentina 1986 World Cup-winner’s future that garnered global attention, leading them successfully through the play-offs.

The recruitment of Gabriel represents a significant step-up in quality. His 10 goals made him the highest-scoring midfielder for 2017/18.

Fujairah are the 18th club that the Eldorado-native has played for, across five different countries. Previous employers include Azerbaijan’s Khazar Lankaran, Iran’s Persepolis and Saudi Arabia’s Al Faisaly.

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When does the 2018/19 AGL start?

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Al Ain are determined to retain their Arabian Gulf League crown in 2018/19 (PLC).

The 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League is set to kick-off on August 30, organisers the Pro League Committee announced on Wednesday.

Last term’s third-placed finishers Al Nasr will begin the campaign against Ajman in Dubai, this fixture likely coming before the renovated Al Maktoum Stadium is reopened. Also taking place on the opening Thursday will be coach Gustavo Quinteros’ competitive debut for fourth-placed Al Wasl when they play Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Dhafra v Sharjah.

Champions Al Ain will start the defence of their crown on the following day away at relegation-battlers Emirates Club. The remaining three fixtures feature a battle of the promoted sides when Fujairah – minus Diego Maradona – host Bani Yas, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club welcome Al Jazira and returning yo-yo club Ittihad Kalba travel to runners-up Al Wahda.

The competition has returned to its 14-team format after last season’s drop to 12 caused by the mergers of Al Shabab, Al Ahli and Dubai CSC, plus Sharjah and Al Shaab. It will run from August 30-May 15.

Top-flight fixtures have been released up until the halfway mark is met on December 14. There will be no matches during the entirety of January because it’s blocked off for the 2019 Asian Cup, on home soil.

Early highlights include Al Ain v Shabab Al Ahli on September 28, the Bur Dubai derby between Wasl and Nasr on October 19 and the ‘Al Clasico’ between Al Ain and Al Jazira on October 20.

May 29’s President’s Cup final will wind up the domestic season.

The full schedule for the Arabian Gulf Cup – held by Wahda – has also been announced. Group games will be played during FIFA international weeks and the CWC, also in the UAE, from September 4-December 21.

The quarter-finals are to be held on December 28. Semi-finals will follow on March 8, with the showpiece coming on March 22.

A list for the first half of the AGL, plus full schedule of the Arabian Gulf Cup, can be found below.

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