Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa targets Super Cup response after Arab Club Champions Cup exit

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(Al Ain).

Goalkeeper Khalid Essa is not wallowing in Al Ain’s first-round elimination from the Arab Club Champions Cup and has immediately set his sights on claiming the Arabian Gulf Super Cup.

The Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup double winners went out on away goals to Algerian champions ES Setif, despite Saturday’s 1-0 victory at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir earning a 2-2 aggregate scoreline.

This was a competition regularly stated as being low on the Boss’ list of priorities. UAE No1 Essa is confident of a better result when they battle top-flight runners-up Al Wahda on August 25 at Cairo’s 30,000-capacity Al Salam Stadium.

“The team camps in Slovenia and Croatia has absolutely been successful under the leadership of coach Zoran Mamic,” the 28-year-old said. “The Arabian Gulf Super Cup is one of the goals for the new season.

“The team has not competed in it during the two seasons. I expect a strong and exciting match to win the Super Cup title between the two teams.”

Essa is one of six players – out-of-contract superstar Omar Abdulrahman has already travelled – who will join up with club-mates Mohamed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem and Ahmed Barman in the UAE’s training camp in Salzburg. This is scheduled to run until August 18, plus feature a number of friendlies – including a clash with Andorra.

“I think the development of the team is very reassuring,” said Mamic. “I am very happy that 90 per cent of the Al Ain players played full games during this short preparation period.

“I hope that the players will keep working hard with the international squad until everyone reaches the required level before the Super Cup, as they will re-join us only a few days before the match in Egypt.”

In the same competition, Al Jazira and Al Wasl will both meet Saudi Arabian opposition. The former battle Al Nassr on August 13 and September 29, with the latter drawn against Al Ittihad on August 24 and September 30.

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Al Nasr midfielder Yohan Cabaye and Al Wasl star Khamis Esmail head top-five AGL summer buys

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Yohan Cabaye with Al Nasr (Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

With less than a month to go until the start of the season, Arabian Gulf League clubs have been busy sculpting squads to experience a successful 2018/19.

Reigning champions Al Ain are yet to bring in any senior recruits, but this is not the case throughout the rest of the division. Money has been spent on targets that will either gain a better tilt at the title, earn mid-table security or ensure a successful battle against the drop.

The top flight kicks off on August 30, plus the summer transfer window closes on October 2. Here are the recruits that have most impressed us, thus far.

KHAMIS ESMAIL

(Twitter/@AlWaslSC).

(Twitter/@AlWaslSC).

It will take some doing for a rival to better Al Wasl’s snapping up of the experienced UAE anchor man.

Esmail was procured for a figure approaching Dh50 million in January 2016. But Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club decided he was expendable amid the chase for Al Dhafra’s Abdullah Al Naqbi.

At 28-years old, Wasl are getting a refined midfielder capable of providing expert guidance to a developing side that is eager to better last term’s third-placed finish.

YOHAN CABAYE

(Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

(Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

A Premier League stalwart will be gracing the AGL’s pitches during 2018/19.

Al Nasr pulled off a great shock when they convinced 48-times-capped France midfielder Yohan Cabaye to end his three-year stay at Crystal Palace and move onto Al Maktoum Stadium.

Cabaye, 32, offers expert playmaking, a ferocious ability from dead balls and a tenacious side that will see no ground given in the middle of the park. This is a figure for whom coach Ivan Jovanovic can build his entire system around.

IGOR CORONADO

(Twitter/@SharjahFC).

(Twitter/@SharjahFC).

Sharjah lavished a significant €6 million (Dh25.5m) fee on the Brazilian playmaker, who made a strong impression during Palermo’s promotion back to Serie A.

Coronado, 25, has been hired to add an injection of creativity into a King side that scored only 26 times in 22 top-flight matches last term. Countryman Lulinha singularly failed at this task.

If he can better last term’s Serie B tally of 10 assists and nine goals from 38 matches, Sharjah will feel content about their substantial investment.

LEROY GEORGE

(Twitter/@BaniyasClub).

(Twitter/@BaniyasClub).

The ex-Netherlands Under-21 international has chosen to swap fighting for A-League glory with Melbourne Victory to scrapping against relegation with Bani.

There was plenty of regret in Australia’s second city when a contract extension could not be agreed with a winger who’d come from nowhere to notch 13 assists and eights goals in a championship season.

The 31-year-old’s talents will need to be on display in Abu Dhabi as the Sky Blues bid to avoid immediate relegation back to First Division League.

MAURO DIAZ

(Twitter/@alahlicclub).

(Twitter/@alahlicclub).

Great strides have been taken by Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club to avoid the goal shortage that crippled their inaugural campaign.

Central to this drive is the purchase of diminutive playmaker Diaz from FC Dallas. The former Argentina Under-20 international excelled during five years in Major League Soccer, being named in 2016’s Best XI.

In total, the 27-year-old heads to Rashid Stadium with a record of 23 goals and 44 assists in 84 matches. Great things are expected.

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Zoran Mamic says it is in 'best interest' of UAE football that Al Ain have strong side for Cup clincher

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Zoran Mamic.

Al Ain boss Zoran Mamic has insisted it is in the “best interest” of UAE football that he has retained a number of international stars for the Arab Club Champions Cup first-round decider against Algeria’s ES Satif.

An eligibility row broke out after a threat was made to withhold all nine call-ups – a figure that excludes unattached superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman – from the Whites’ external training camp in Austria from August 1-18. This meant a strong side from the Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup holders went down 2-1 in Tuesday’s opening leg at Zagreb’s Stadion Maksimir.

A compromise was then reached which means utility defender Mohamed Ahmed, centre-back Mohanad Salem and anchor man Ahmed Barman will be missing for Saturday’s clincher.

“It is in Emirates football’s best interest that we created a deal in the spirit of one team,” said Mamic. “This is because our goals are shared about the preparation of players to face the challenges both at club and international level.

“We will show the best that we have and we look forward to a superior performance.”

One player who could feature for the first time in pre-season is 36-goal striker Marcus Berg. He is ready to be unleashed after helping Sweden make the quarter-finals in World Cup 2018.

In midweek, veteran forward Ibrahim Diaky put Al Ain ahead from the penalty spot.

But Algeria playmaker Abdelmoumene Djabou then converted a low cross in the latter stages of each half to hand an advantage to the Ligue Professionnelle 1 champions.

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