A thrilling crescendo is expected this weekend when the Arabian Gulf Cup’s group stage culminates.
The Arabian Gulf League’s 14 sides were separated into two seven-team pools for August’s kick-off in the secondary competition, with the top four from each progressing into the quarters. For Thursday and Saturday’s sixth – and final – pool fixtures, two clubs are scrapping for one remaining place in Group A and only two from three contenders can also advance in Group B.
Third-placed Bani Yas find themselves as one of the latter-mentioned section’s trio of protagonists.
The Sky Blues thrashed promoted Hatta 4-0 last Saturday to put themselves in a commanding position. Victory at fourth-placed Fujairah on Thursday would ensure they go forwards with Al Wahda and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, while a draw suffices if fifth-placed Al Wasl fail to beat bottom-placed Ajman two days later.
“We cannot play for a draw, we have to play for winning,” said seasoned Bani boss Winfried Schaefer, who won the tournament at Al Ain in 2008/09. “When you play for a draw, maybe in the last minute we lose 1-0.
“We have to make our style. In the last match, this was very good.
“Only the long passes caused a problem. But our 4-0 against Hatta is only good if we also have a good match in Fujairah.
“Win or draw – but first we have to play for three points.”
Bani have not won a top-tier domestic event since 1991/92’s President’s Cup. They have, however, since landed three First Division League titles and the 2013 GCC Champions League.
Al Ain, holders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and Al Jazira – courtesy of Milos Kosanovic’s nerveless 94th-minue penalty versus Al Dhafra last Friday – are already through from Group A.
A straight knockout will take place on Saturday to decide the fourth team between Dhafra and Al Nasr. The hosts sit fourth, two points ahead of their fifth-placed visitors to Hamdan bin Zayed Al Nahyan Stadium.
There is far-less pressure on leaders Al Ain this Thursday when they travel to second-bottom Khor Fakkan.
The Boss – who are the UAE’s most-decorated club, but boast just the 2008/09 AG Cup – have used the event to successfully bed-in another generation of promising youngsters.
These have included French duo Idriss Mzaouiyani and Omar Yaseen, plus Emiratis Falah Waheed, Ali Al Haidhani and Salem Abdullah.
Coach Ivan Leko praised the formative value such exposure has on the youngest members of his star-studded squad.
He said: “Our confrontation with Khor Fakkan is very important, based on our clear strategy in dealing with all the matches played by Al Ain.
“This is because the big clubs are required to win all challenges, regardless of the position of the opponent or our position in the table.
“We are going to face Khor Fakkan with the winning mentality and return from there with three points. I have asked my players to concentrate in all matches, because the team is required to reap strong results in all competitions.”
All quarter-finals will be played on December 6. The semi-finals are set to take place on January 9, 2020, with the final following on January 17.
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