The Pro League Committee carried out the draw on Tuesday for UAE football’s third most-important competition. An all-Dubai tie is sure to garner the most interest.
Al Ahli stormed to a 2-0 victory against Al Shabab in last year’s showpiece, before those two were merged with Dubai CSC in May to create the new outfit. Opponents Wasl are pushing for the Arabian Gulf League-title, but haven’t won silverware since 2010’s GCC Champions League.
Wahda are also in the mix for top-flight success. They will fancy their chances against Dibba, who have never lifted a major trophy.
The legs will be played on March 9 and 22.
Al Ain’s 2018 AFC Champions League campaign is yet to receive ignition after they shared penalties to frustratingly draw 1-1 with Michael Laudrup’s dogged Al Rayyan.
First-half spot-kicks were shared by the Boss’ Sweden No9 Marcus Berg and prolific Morocco striker Abderrazak Hamdallah. The former, vitally, also missed a sack of chances to leave a positive team display unfulfilled and make it successive stalemates in Group D.
BERG FEELS GYAN’S PRESENCE
This was a rare night to forget for the hosts’ marquee summer recruit.
Berg’s performance will not be defined by an expert 10th-minute penalty. It will be his succession of misses – in particular, a woeful 78th-minute air shot.
It is hard to criticise a man with 16 goals in 23 games. But Boss fans will always think, ‘Asamoah Gyan would have scored that’.
Emmanuel Emenike and Douglas are just two to fail this exacting test since the Ghana superstar’s 2015 exit. You would back Berg to make amends, beginning with next month’s key double header versus Winfried Schafer’s Esteghlal.
MAMIC MAGIC HAS NO REWARD
He might not have been on the touchline, but Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic’s presence could be felt throughout this engaging clash.
The suspended ex-Croatia international – sent off in last week’s opening goalless draw at 2017 runners-up Al Hilal – went for broke, cramming in as many attackers as humanly possible.
With rising Egypt star Hussein El Shahat at right-back, this bold approach was only let down by Berg’s surprise profligacy.
On another night, this would have been an enlivening win for the 2002/03 winners. Mamic should not be downhearted.
AMOORY STILL FINDING HIS WAY
A curious and fitful campaign continued for the UAE’s golden boy.
Playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s all-action display did not betray the fact this was just a 12th start in 2017/18. But, and there have been too many this term, he did not do enough with these openings and certainly did not deserve another surprise man-of-the-match gong.
In particular, a conveyor belt of crosses were cleared by the scrambling Rayyan defence in the second half. Al Ain require more precision.
Coach Zoran Mamic declared his “heart is with Al Ain” when he stirringly moved to dismiss reports of a switch back to Saudi Arabia ahead of Tuesday’s 2018 AFC Champions League-clash with Michael Laudrup’s Al Rayyan.
Mamic, 46, is experiencing a bumper first full season since being controversially poached from Riyadh giants Al Nassr in February 2017.
The ex-Croatia international’s influence leading the Boss to the top of the 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League’s standings has attracted covetous eyes from across the border, a dangerous situation with less than six months remaining on his contract.
But he delivered a morale boost on Monday, seemingly committing his long-term future to the club.
“My heart is with Al Ain and I plan to be part of this great club in the next stage,” said Mamic, whose side gained a creditable goalless draw at 2017 runners-up Al Hilal when Group D got under way last week.
“All my focus is on achieving my goals with Al Ain and I have a continuing contract with this club.”
2016 AFC Player Omar Abdulrahman missed the trip to Hilal as he lacked match sharpness, but played in Friday’s 5-1 humiliation at Al Wahda in the Arabian Gulf Cup’s quarter-finals.
Rayyan sit a distant third in the QNB Stars League.
An opening 2-2 draw with Iran’s Esteghlal saw experienced Qatar schemer Rodrigo Tabata score and be sent off.
“The fact is Rayyan has a large squad,” said Mamic.
“The absence of one player won’t affect the team.”
Rayyan lost 5-1 at Wahda in last year’s group stages.