Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Davide Mariani is excited about the prospect of winning his first silverware in UAE football as his side takes on Sharjah in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup at Al Maktoum Stadium on Saturday.
The Swiss playmaker insisted his team’s preparations for the game are progressing well, adding that he expects a huge show of support from the Shabab Al Ahli faithful to propel them into the title.
Mariani, a recent arrival at Rashid Stadium from Bulgarian side Levski Sofia, hailed the atmosphere at his new side as motivating for the players to perform. “I am happy to be here. Everyone is supporting me and helping me adapt to life here,” he said ahead of what is expected to be a fiery affair as the President’s Cup winners find themselves face to face with the Arabian Gulf League champions.
“I feel like we have a team spirit and that will help us achieve great things together.
“I learnt that Sharjah are a strong side with a solid squad that has won the league. We have to be at our best and give our everything to overcome them.”
Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani, meanwhile, is predicting a difficult match, with equal chances for both sides.
“It will be a strong encounter and both sides have an equal chance until kick-off, while concentration will be key to winning,” said last season’s Golden Glove winner.
“I hope our fans will turn up in numbers to support us, because their role is as important as ours. We are used to having them by our side and with their presence, the trophy will be ours.”
Shabab Al Ahli hold the record for Arabian Gulf Super Cup wins with four titles (2008/09, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17). Al Ain and Al Wahda lead the chasing pack with three titles each, while Emirates Club have a sole title in 2010/11.
Six players share top spot in the competition’s scoring charts with two strikes each. Al Ain’s Emerson in 2009/10, Emirates’ Karim Karkar in 2010/11, Wahda’s Hugo Henrique in 2011/12 and Al Ain’s Emmanuel Emenike in 2015/16.
Moroccan winger Mourad Batna is the only player to have scored in two different editions of the Super Cup with the same team, having netted for Wahda in 2017/18 and 2018/19. Ibrahim Diaky remains the only player to have scored Super Cup goals for two different sides, first in Al Jazira colours in 2011/12 then in Al Ain’s shirt last season.
Top-flight champions Sharjah are determined to show surprise success has not gone to their heads when 2019/20 kicks off in earnest with Saturday’s gala Arabian Gulf Super Cup clash against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, according to live-wire playmaker Igor Coronado.
It is a shock that the Brazilian’s unfancied side are even involved in the traditional season opener, with last term’s deserved Arabian Gulf League title – their first in 23 years – the biggest upset recorded during a decade of professionalism in the UAE. They now face the form team of 2019 – coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena led his employers to twin triumphs in the President and Arabian Gulf Cups.
“It will be an exciting game and it is a game every club wants to play at the start of the season,” said 27-year-old Coronado, ahead of the showpiece at Al Nasr’s redeveloped Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai. “This is because you won something.
“That is in the past, though. It will not be an easy game, we have a lot of respect for them.
“Nothing has changed for Sharjah. We’ve kept our mentality and have the same work-rate.
“We hope for the best.”
Shabab Al Ahli finished as AGL runners-up, six points behind the winners. Their season was turned around by October’s visionary call to dispense with Jose Luis Sierra and replace him with ex-Al Wasl tactician Arruabarrena.
This deficit could be directly attributed to Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s King doing the double over them in the league.
“This is a different match and the two teams want to win,” said Arruabarrena, whose President’s Cup triumph gained entry into the weekend game. “We will try not to think that we lost to Sharjah both times in the Arabian Gulf League.
“We need to concentrate more on winning the third time. Only the team that keeps total concentration will win tomorrow.
“The most important thing will be what happens inside the field, based on the experiences of the players. I am telling them to enjoy the match without pressure and the result will follow.”
A burning desire to close the gap has witnessed a busy summer at Shabab Al Ahli. Levski Sofia creator Davide Mariani, Deportivo La Coruna loanee Fede Cartabia and prolific Al Wahda forward Leonardo – the 2019 AFC Champions League’s leading marksman – represent headline additions.
Warm-ups in the AG Cup from a side depleted by the international break generated a draw at Al Ain, plus victories versus Al Jazira and Nasr.
Striker Welliton’s defection to Al Wasl and the €3 million purchase of Partizan Belgrade’s Ricardo Gomes defined Sharjah’s transfer window. They also landed a trio of Emiratis from Wahda in defender Salem Sultan, centre midfielder Mohammed Abdulbasit and winger Tareq Ahmed.
Gomes fired blanks in AG Cup defeats to Bani Yas and Wahda. He then put Ajman to the sword with an ominous ‘perfect’ hat-trick in last weekend’s 5-0 thrashing.
Coronado – who inked a lucrative contract extension to 2023 this week and was named the AGL’s Best Foreign Player in May – was expecting his new team-mate to remain on the goal trail.
He said: “We can already see Ricardo’s quality. A striker lives by scoring goals.
“Once he scored the hat-trick, it took a lot of weight off his bag. I know how much he wants to succeed.
“The group, the coach are all very happy for him. It was an important moment for him to get those goals before this game and the league starting.
“I am sure he is going to help us a lot.”
Sharjah will be aiming for a third Super Cup win in four appearances. For Ahli, from eight appearances across their various guises, victory would draw them level with Al Ain’s leading five.
Tickets for the AG Super Cup can be purchased at dubai.platinumlist.net.
Al Nasr’s Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai hosts the 12th edition of the Arabian Gulf Super Cup on Saturday, with the match pitting 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah against President’s Cup winners Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
The clash, which sees the winner lift the first silverware of the season, returns to the UAE having been played in Egypt last season.
The game kicks off at 8.30pm with Sharjah taking part in the Super Cup for the first time in their history after winning their first AGL title in 23 years. Coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s men won 17 of their 26 league fixtures last season, drawing eight and were a single match away from an invincible season, but lost to Al Wasl in matchweek 22.
No team has contested the Super Cup more than Shabab Al Ahli. The Dubai side – who also lifted the Arabian Gulf Cup last term – won on four of their five appearances in the competition, lifting the trophy in 2008/09, 2013/14, 2014/15 and 2016/17. They were beaten by Al Ain in the 2009/10 edition.
The two teams met 31 times in all competitions in the professional era. Shabab Al Ahli emerged victorious on 16 occasions, while Sharjah won five times and ten games ended in draws. Although Shabab Al Ahli historically hold the upper hand, Sharjah were the more successful of the two over the past couple of seasons, winning three of the teams’ last four encounters.
King defender Abdullah Ghanim believes his side are mentally prepared for Saturday’s Super Cup clash.
“My team-mates and I will be in top form, mentally and physically,” said Ghanim ahead of the Al Maktoum Stadium showdown. “It is a tough match against experienced opponents, so we have to work hard to win it.”
The 24-year-old discussed his team’s fortunes in their maiden Super Cup appearance, adding: “I believe the two teams have an equal chance going into the game, and we will have to show we are superior on the pitch.
“Our fans will be the key in this game. Seeing the stands full is a great motivation for us and that is what we expect at Al Maktoum Stadium so we can celebrate the title together.”
Shabab Al Ahli midfielder Abdullah Al Naqbi, meanwhile, stressed the importance of the encounter.
“Our ambition as players is to win, although it will be a difficult one,” said Al Naqbi.
“It is certainly not an easy game, but we will not disappoint our fans who have always stood behind us and drove us to achieve two titles last season.”