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.
Reported coaching target Jose Luis Sierra is free to make the move to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club after his representatives informed Saudi Arabian giants Al Ittihad he did not intend to ink a contract extension.
Sierra, 49, has emerged as a leading figure to helm the summer refit at Rashid Stadium in the wake of a disappointing inaugural campaign. His candidacy was strengthened earlier this month when he defied lengthy off-field issues to claim the King’s Cup of Champions thanks to a 3-1 victory against Al Faisaly.
Ittihad had wanted the ex-Chile midfielder to continue for a third season. But the Jeddah powerhouse informed supporters in the early hours of Monday that a complete breakdown in negotiations had occurred and they would regrettably be forced into looking at alternative options.
“The administration provided all means for the continuation of the coach with the team next season,” read a statement. “The chairman of the board of directors, Mr Nawaf bin Nasser Al-Mekern, delivered the coach all his outstanding financial dues to the club from his personal account.
“Despite all these efforts and keenness for the technical stability of the team, the club management received a response from coach Jose Luis Sierra’s agent that he did not desire to continue with the team.
“We are now searching for a coach capable of building a champion team.”
Former Al Wasl boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena, 42, has also been linked to becoming the replacement for Mahdi Ali at Shabab Al Ahli.
Arabian Gulf League holders Al Ain have learned their opponents for the 2018 Club World Cup’s kick-off after Team Wellington booked a first-ever berth in the global competition with victory in the OFC Champions League.
The amateur side followed up their 6-0 demolition job in last week’s first leg at home to Fiji’s Lautoka with an exciting 4-3 win at Churchill Park on Sunday morning, to claim a 10-3 aggregate triumph and a debut continental crown. This win provides an unprecedented showcase after New Zealand-rivals Auckland City won the previous seven editions.
Team Welly will now start the seven-team tournament, featuring six continental champions and host outfit, with a winner-takes-all qualifier against the Boss at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on December 12.
The victor from that eliminator will face either Africa’s CAF champions or the winners of Asia’s AFC Champions League in the quarter-finals.
“I’m delighted, we’re still absorbing everything but after a season of tremendous hard work, to finally clinch the big one is a tremendous feeling,” said Team Wellington coach Jose Manuel Figueira.
In 2017, host side Al Jazira managed to make it all the way to a tense semi-final against European kings Real Madrid. They took the lead through Romarinho but were denied a memorable result by second-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as Los Blancos triumphed 2-1.
North and Central America’s CONCACAF champions Guadalajara are the other team to have already qualified. Either Madrid or Liverpool will join them next Saturday.