Undefeated leaders Sharjah will look to breakout UAE star Saif Rashid when their Arabian Gulf League campaign resumes on Friday with a trip to bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
Rashid, 23, received a late call-up to coach Alberto Zaccheroni’s Whites squad for this month’s preliminary training camp before January 2019’s Asian Cup. He excelled on the wing, however, in last week’s goalless draw against Bolivia and then netted the opener in Tuesday’s 2-0 triumph against Yemen.
The King will hope for his fine form to continue after their momentum was checked before the international break with a 2-2 draw against promoted Ittihad Kalba.
“Our goal is to get back on our winning streak,” Rashid said. “The pride and honour of scoring with the UAE will motivate me in the future.”
Second-placed Al Jazira, meanwhile, will be led by caretaker Damien Hertog in the Abu Dhabi-derby against an ailing Al Wahda who are winless in four top-flight matches.
The night’s other game sees Fujairah aim to continue their strong AGL return against lowly Emirates Club.
Al Wasl are aware of the danger posed by wounded heavyweights Al Ahly when the sides meet on Thursday for a spot in the Zayed Champions Cup’s quarter-finals, according to caretaker boss Hassan Al Abdouli.
Much has happened since the Cheetahs escaped from Cairo with a creditable 2-2 second-round draw on October 28. Their lauded Egyptian opponents suffered bitter disappointment when a 3-1 first-leg lead in the CAF Champions League final disintegrated into a 4-3 aggregate loss to Tunisia’s unfancied Esperance de Tunis.
Speaking at Zabeel Stadium, Al Abdouli – who has won three, lost two and drawn one since temporarily succeeding Gustavo Qunteros – was wary of a backlash.
“The participation in the Arab Championship is one of the first times we participate in a foreign tournament, unlike Al Ahly,” the 44-year-old said.
“They are a club with great experience in these tournaments, as they are one of the biggest teams in Africa. Their experience in the CAF final is not easy and always in the final there is a winner.
“I think that Al Ahly is able to get out of this bad period, especially since they have gone through worse conditions in the past and succeeded in overcoming them.”
The pressure will be on opponents Ahly, who should boast a boisterous support in Dubai. “The next period needs a lot of concentration from our side and I’m sure that our fans will continue to support us to win more championships,” said French boss Patrice Carteron.
Ahly are the reigning Egyptian Premier League champions – a competition they’ve won 40 times – and provided a quartet of players for this month’s Egypt squad.
In contrast, Wasl currently sit 10th in the Arabian Gulf League. No UAE side has won the Zayed Champions Cup, in any of its guises.
The UAE expected to be welcoming Mohamed Salah and Egypt on Tuesday.
Instead, they face the far-less familiar threat of Yemen when the penultimate training camp winds down before hosting duties began at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
Here are the talking points ahead of the friendly clash at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium:
BOLIVIA WASN’T BORING
A cursory look at Thursday’s goalless stalemate with Bolivia makes sorry reading.
This is not entirely fair. The 4-3-3 formation came alive thanks to the usage of wingers Saif Rashid and Ismail Al Hammadi, while centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman rocked the crossbar with a volley plus cleared a header off his own line.
Al Nasr forward Mohamed Al Akbari also excelled off the bench in his first senior international since March.
Plenty of attacking endeavour was shown. This has not always been the case during miserable matches, such as August’s 0-0 draw with Andorra and September’s 2-0 loss to undercooked Trinidad and Tobago.
Progress. Of a kind.
YEMEN ARE NO PUSHOVERS
Tuesday night was originally planned to be an entirely different affair.
A gala event at refurbished Al Nahyan Stadium must now wait until March. The subsequent scramble to rope in Yemen at the last minute means the Whites are facing opponents ranked 131st by FIFA, rather than 58th.
This should not, however, be taken as being guarantor of a walkover.
The Yemenis are preparing for their first-ever Asian Cup. Friday’s first match since their berth was secured in March was a creditable 1-0 loss against a strong Saudi Arabia.
STAT’S NOT EASY
And still, the numbers make sorry reading for coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
His UAE record reads: five wins, six defeats, five draws, eight scored, nine conceded.
In the long-term absence of inspirational playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, goals must be conjured from somewhere – and fast.