Abu Dhabi pride is on the line this weekend when second-placed Al Jazira welcome near-neighbours – and wannabe Arabian Gulf League title challengers – Al Wahda.
Only three kilometres separate these great rivals on the capital’s streets. Victory for Friday’s hosts, however, would open up a gaping six-point chasm between them after nine match-weeks, plus deliver another setback to hopes of reeling in unbeaten leaders Sharjah.
With no draws played out in this heated fixture since September 2016, 12 meetings ago, entertainment should be guaranteed when UAE record scorer Ali Mabkhout and national icon Ismail Matar are pitted against each other at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
“We are well aware of the importance of the Al Wahda match as it is a special one between the two teams,” said Jazira boss Marcel Keizer.
“The enthusiasm of the derby gives a special flavour.”
Meanwhile, ninth-placed Al Wasl are determined to show impending change at the top will not destabilise efforts versus Sharjah.
Confirmation Odair Hellmann had been ambitiously poached from Rio de Janeiro giants Fluminense arrived on Monday. The coveted Brazilian coach is expected to be in the dugout for match-week 10, meaning Emirati Salem Rabie remains in charge for Thursday’s trip to Sharjah Stadium as they aim to notch a third-successive top-flight triumph.
He said: “My contract with the team continues within the technical staff of Al Wasl. I was aware of negotiating with coaches after the departure of Laurentiu Reghecampf and respect the management’s decisions.
“The new coach is good and most importantly it is the interest of the team.”
Al Ain can gain instant revenge for Saturday’s President’s Cup round-of-16 elimination when they meet Ajman for the second time within a week, Fujairah could slip into the drop zone after they play third-placed Al Nasr and Bani Yas will hope to inflict an eighth defeat in nine AGL matches upon bottom-placed Hatta.
Fallen 2019/20 pacesetters Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club cannot afford more dropped points when they play Al Dhafra and Ittihad Kalba could end the weekend within the top five if they beat 11th-placed Khor Fakkan.
MATCH-WEEK NINE FIXTURES
18:00 Al Ain v Ajman
18:00 Al Nasr v Fujairah
21:00 Sharjah v Al Wasl
18:00 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club v Al Dhafra
18:00 Hatta v Bani Yas
21:00 Khor Fakkan v Ittihad Kalba
21:00 Al Jazira v Al Wahda