Arabian Gulf Cup: Bitter rivals Al Ain and Al Ahli meet minus several star players

Al Ain and Al Ahli are both shorn of their top players, with several Emiratis on national team duty in Tuesday night’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Australia in Abu Dhabi.
Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic. AFP
Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic. AFP

UAE football’s biggest rivals will field depleted sides against each other in Wednesday’s Arabian Gulf Cup match at the Rashid bin Mohammed stadium.

Al Ain and Al Ahli are both shorn of their top players, with several Emiratis on national team duty in Tuesday night’s 2018 World Cup qualifier against Australia in Abu Dhabi. Added to that is the need to keep as many of their personnel fresh for pressing assignments in a week’s time.

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While Al Ain are preparing for the second leg of their Asian Champions League quarter-final against Uzbekistan’s Lokomotiv Tashkent next Tuesday, Ahli will be up against Al Jazira in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup in Cairo the same day. Al Ain manager Zlatko Dalic conceded that these factors cancelled themselves out for both teams.

“We are both in similar predicament in terms of preserving the players and having to prepare for two different competitions,” Dalic said. “But our intentions are very clear, which is to return with three points against Ahli.”

Dalic is hoping Al Ain can keep up the good work after a hard-fought 3-2 win over Kalba in their Group B opener at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Friday.

“Being the first game of the season, and with several of our key players on national duty, and considering the humid conditions, it turned out to be a rough match for us,” the Croat said, adding he had to give his player a full day’s rest after.

“Our games against Ahli have always been tense, strong and close. We expect them to come back strong against us, particularly after their [1-0] loss to Al Nasr in their opening match.”

Al Ain’s Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla, too, stressed on the importance of facing Ahli, describing Wednesday’s game as key to their hopes of reaching the knockouts.

“This is a big game and played with great intensity even in the absence of several key players,” he said. “The absence of key players on both sides only evens out the two teams.”

Al Wasl will be hoping to take their winning formula forward when they travel to Hatta in the early game in Group A, while Al Shabab will also be looking to follow up on their winning start in Group B with a trip to Kalba.

On Thursday, Al Wahda will be at home to Al Dhafra while Baniyas travel to Dibba and Sharjah face Emirates.

Arabian Gulf Cup fixtures:

Wednesday, September 7

• Hatta v Al Wasl, Al Maktoum Stadium, 5.45pm

• Kalba v Al Shabab, Kalba Stadium, 8.30pm

• Al Ahli v Al Ain, Rashid Stadium, 8.30pm

Thursday, September 8

• Dibba v Baniyas, Fujairah Stadium, 5.40pm

• Sharjah v Emirates, Sharjah Stadium, 8.30pm

• Al Wahda v Al Dhafra, Al Nahyan Stadium, 8.30pm

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Published: September 6, 2016 04:00 AM

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