The first major silverware of 2019/20 will move into touching distance this Friday for the quartet of clubs contesting an intriguing set of Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals.
Only heavyweights remain in the draw. The weekend’s play kicks off at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium when Omar Abdulrahman’s Al Jazira host holders – and Arabian Gulf League pacesetters – Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club at 18:15, prior to the action moving to Al Maktoum Stadium when Alvaro Negredo’s Al Nasr welcome debutant coach Pedro Emanuel’s Al Ain.
With a quick turnaround ahead of January 17’s showpiece, the matches are sure to be intense.
Tickets are available now from PlatinumList.net. There will be a raffle at the end of the first half of both ties, with smartphones, tablets and smart watches being gifted to the winners after the final whistle.
AL JAZIRA V SHABAB AL AHLI
Shabab Al Ahli boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena has told his charges to shut-out the noise and concentrate on defending their AG Cup trophy.
The ex-Argentina left-back’s side have won nine of the last 11 games in all competitions. This searing run – fuelled by the goals of 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil – has opened up a five-point lead in the top-flight standings, plus put them on the cusp of another domestic decider.
Facing them this Friday is a star-studded Jazira side who will be bruised by last week’s home 2-1 defeat to Nasr.
“The task of preserving the Arabian Gulf Cup title is not easy, and we, as a team, want to hold onto the title and defend it,” said Arruabarrena, whose troops lost on penalties to Sharjah in the season-opening Arabian Gulf Super Cup. “We must be more focused and exert great effort, not listening to external opinions that negatively affect the team.
“We must present a high-level match, leaving it victorious and reaching the final.”
Jazira, however, come into the clash with depleted resources and on the back of a momentum-checking result.
Marcel Keizer had engineered a six-match winning run in all competitions, prior to Nasr’s come-from-behind rout.
The former Ajax boss must now battle Shabab Al Ahli without a quintet of his best youth players. Back-up goalkeeper Abdulrahman Al Ameri, centre-back Khalifa Al Hammadi, utility man Mohammed Al Attas, powerhouse midfielder Abdullah Ramadan and forward Zayed Al Ameri are all at the AFC U-23 Championship as the UAE battle for a berth at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics.
This crisis is added to by injuries to captain Ali Khaseif and playmaker Khalfan Mubarak. Keizer, however, remained confident that “appropriate alternatives” can be found.
He said: “Shabab Al Ahli are a strong team and a guide at the top of the league, but we are also strong.
“The team is developing. The match will take place in the absence of five of our players with the Olympic team.
“Ali Khaseif is also not ready, as is Khalfan Mubarak. We will find appropriate alternatives.”
It is exactly a decade since Jazira last lifted the AG Cup, Ajman then being beaten 2-0.
AL NASR V AL AIN
New coach Pedro Emanuel has seen “the necessary spirit” in his short time with Al Ain to know he can dump Nasr out of the Cup.
Ex-Porto defender Emanuel, 44, was hired last Saturday on a one-and-a-half-year deal by the UAE’s most-decorated club. This followed December’s call to cut loose former Croatia midfielder Ivan Leko after less than six months at the helm.
Landmark King’s Cup success was attained by the latest incumbent last season at Saudi Arabia outsiders Al Taawoun, while his playing career is highlighted by 2003/04’s remarkable Champions League success at the Portuguese giants. This record will be tested by a resurgent Nasr under Krunoslav Jurcic.
“I have a wonderful team that includes great players,” Emanuel said. “The fans also have a passion for football as I watched in the last match.
“In the past days, we worked hard. The important thing is that we will play the match to make the final.
“It is true we do not have enough time, but we have the necessary spirit to win.”
Nasr come into the clash third in the AGL table, some turnaround from an abysmal beginning to 2019/20. A remarkable recovery under ex-Bani Yas tactician Jurcic would be highlighted by eliminating the Boss.
He said: “We have a great match before us. We will play Al Ain, who made a change in their technical staff and this often results in a strong reaction from the players.
“This makes the game difficult, but we represent a large team and we will enter the game with a complete list of players. I personally have confidence in our ability to win and qualify for the final of the tournament.”
Al Ain, staggeringly, have only lifted the AG Cup once – in 2008/09. Nasr reigned supreme in 2014/15.
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