Boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena is taking nothing granted ahead of Monday’s President’s Cup final in which his Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club are hot favourites versus Al Dhafra.
The star-studded Dubai outfit are second in the Arabian Gulf League, six places and 16 points in front of opponents at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium who have never lifted a major trophy.
“The stakes are equal before the start of the game,” said ex-Argentina left-back Arruabarrena, who is aiming to lift his club’s first trophy since May 2017’s amalgamation. “It is 50 per cent for each team, in such confrontations there is no place for statistics and previous meetings.
“The game is ninety minutes and who exerts a greater effort will be worthy of the title and deserves the Cup.
Dhafra have blossomed since the summer appointment of Serbia’s Vuk Rasovic. He led Saudi Arabian outsiders Al Faisaly to defeat in last term’s King’s Cup showpiece – and will now be looking to go one better.
“This game is the most important this season,” said goalkeeper Khaled Al Senani. “All players have agreed to provide the best for the title and to make history.”
Clubs both old and familiar will return to the Arabian Gulf League for 2019/20 after Khor Fakkan and Hatta locked out the promotion spots during First Division League’s enthralling final day.
A quartet of clubs – the aforementioned duo, plus Al Hamriyah and Al Urooba – were all in contention for promotion ahead of round 18.
Long-term leaders Khor did their bit by beating second-bottom Al Taawoun 3-0, goals being shared between Abdulqader Qambar, veteran Mohamed Malalla and Brazilian stalwart Rodrigo Silva. This result both clinched the title and confirmed the end of a decade-long absence – they were then called Al Khaleej – from the top flight.
The race for second was far more complex. Hatta – relegated via 2017/18’s unique play-offs – earned an instant and dramatic return thanks to Brazilian attacking midfielder Gilmar 90th-minute clincher in the tense 1-0 victory at fourth-placed Hamriyah, thus allowing a superior head-to-head record against Urooba, who defeated Dibba Al Hisn 2-0, to come into play at the death.
Two from Dibba Al Fujairah, Fujairah and Emirates Club will be demoted from the AGL.
His side have a huge cup final looming in five days’ time, but Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena insists his focus and that of his players is on the Arabian Gulf League and relegation scrappers Emirates Club on Wednesday.
The Argentine leads his side into the final of the President’s Cup on Monday, where they face resurgent Al Dhafra. It will be a chance to fight for a maiden piece of silverware since the club were rebranded in the summer of 2017 following a merger between Al Ahli, Al Shabab and Dubai CSC.
Some lean times have followed but former La Albiceleste international Arruabarrena has ushered in a period of prosperity since taking over from Jose Luis Sierra last October.
He has marched the club to third in the AGL table – they share the same amount of points as second-placed Al Jazira but trail only on goal difference – while former side Al Wasl were thrashed 5-1 in the semi-finals on the way to an appointment with the Western Knights at Zayed Sports City Stadium next week.
But it’s a case of first things first for Arruabarrena. “Talking about the final of the President’s Cup, it is not yet time,” said the 43-year-old, a winner of six Argentina caps between 1995-2006.
“We must focus in the current period on the next match, and we will leave the cup final for a time after the completion of the game before us in the league.”
Lowly Emirates sit third bottom and are yet again in the midst of a relegation dogfight. And Arruabarrena insists the Falcons will feel Wednesday’s encounter is their own cup final, and has warned his side not to expect an easy game.
“The team that performs better is the one who wins,” he added. “For the teams that seek to escape from the relegation area, I see that the games are harder, and they perform like a final match.
“They seek to improve their position, so I expect a strong competition between the two teams.”
Fellow finalists Dhafra are also in action on Wednesday night. The team in eighth face Al Nasr, a point and place below them, at Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Stadium.