Revitalised Al Wasl’s hectic run of three matches during 10 days, in two competitions, begins on Tuesday with a clash against tricky promoted opponents Bani Yas.
New boss Laurentiu Reghecampf’s organisational skills are set to be tested against the Sky Blues and Al Wahda – the club that sacked him during November – in the Arabian Gulf League, plus Saturday’s hotly anticipated Zayed Champions Cup quarter-final, first leg against Saudi Arabian royalty Al Ahli Jeddah.
“We are still in the starting stage so it is difficult to judge the level of the team now, we have a strong game with Bani Yas and we have to enter the game with the utmost readiness so that we can win,” said the Romanian, whose return of two wins from two top-flight fixtures in charge will be tested against a club who sit a creditable fifth.
“Especially as we will also play difficult matches in a short time.”
Wasl looked set for a shock descent from last term’s third-placed finishers into relegation candidates under Bolivia’s Gustavo Quinteroz and caretaker Hassan Al Abdouli.
Meanwhile, strugglers Fujairah have turned to the man who secured top-flight football to save their season.
Dr Abdullah Mesfer guided the Wolves through last term’s promotion play-offs after the abrupt exit of Diego Maradona. He was then ditched for Ivan Hasek, but the Czech was dismissed after Friday’s 2-0 loss against Wasl left them just three points off the drop zone.
In a lengthy coaching career, Dr Mesfer has also led the likes of UAE, Jordan, UAE Under-23s, Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Dhafra.
Saeed Juma came off the substitutes’ bench and converted the winning penalty as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club pulled off an epic quarter-final victory against neighbours Al Nasr in the President’ Cup.
In a tense clash at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium, all the drama was saved for the final throes. Replacement Mohamed Al Akbari rounded goalkeeper Majed Nasser in the 79th minute and blasted into an open goal, via the crossbar, to put the Blue Wave in front.
The 2014/15 champions, however, could not hold out and Moldova forward Henruque Luvannor scored an 89th-minute spot-kick, on the rebound, to earn extra time.
Chances then came and went prior to a shootout in which 25-year-old Juma registered the winning effort.
Elsewhere on Saturday night, Sharjah remain on course for a remarkable double after defender Abdullah Ghanem produced a scruffy extra-time header to earn a 2-1 win against valiant Emirates Club at Fujairah Stadium.
The unbeaten Arabian Gulf League leaders went ahead in style during the 13th minute, through Cape Verde winger Ryan Mendes control and low finish. Victory was then snatched from them when midfielder Hossam Loutfy pounced from close range in the 94th minute.
Ghanem then had the decisive touch after a goalmouth scramble.
Caretaker boss Zeljko Sopic has urged Al Ain to ignore the Abu Dhabi derby hype and solely concentrate on magnifying their own strengths in the critical clash with Al Wahda.
The Boss’ first match without Zoran Mamic, who defected late last month to Saudi Professional League holders Al Hilal, saw them register a frustrating goalless draw with lowly Emirates Club. They will hope to narrow the five-point gap to unbeaten leaders Sharjah on Sunday when Henk ten Cate’s revitalised Clarets come to Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
“It is very important to focus on preparing ourselves as required, before thinking about the opponent ‘s style,” said ex-Under-23s manager Sopic.
“We trust in the ability of the Al Ain players to show their best and achieve a strong result.
“We are five points behind the leaders and have a game in hand. I wish success to the team in achieving this goal.”
Wahda finished second behind the Boss last term, but an awful first half of the campaign saw Laurentiu Reghecampf sacked in November.
Al Jazira icon ten Cate then answered an emergency call. The 64-year-old’s first top-flight game in charge witnessed four first-half goals scored in an eventual 4-2 triumph against Ittihad Kalba when the winter break ended.
“I always enjoy playing big games,” said the 2015/16 President’s Cup and 2016/17 AGL winner. “This is also the same for the players, and it makes things easier for the coach.
“The players have the motivation to play these games and provide the best level.
“I love Al Ain, I have many good memories. I played seven games and I never lost there.”