Arabian Gulf League: Gyan says 'every team wants to beat Al Ain'

The Garden City club have been the country's standout side these past two campaigns, but star striker Asamoah Gyan says this coming season could be Al Ain's most difficult yet. John McAuley reports.

Asamoah Gyan, left, says teams, such as Al Ahli and Al Jazira, will chase Al Ain in the upcoming season but will not catch them.
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Asamoah Gyan concedes next season could be Al Ain's most difficult yet, as the UAE champions bid for a third successive top-flight title.

The Garden City club have been the country's standout side these past two campaigns, and in 2011/12 ended an eight-year drought by sealing the championship with three matches to spare.

Last term was even more conclusive as Al Ain collected a second consecutive league trophy five rounds early, in mid-April.

Despite taking only one victory from their final four Pro League matches, they still finished 11 points clear of their closest challengers, Al Ahli.

Gyan has been central to Al Ain's dominance, scoring 53 goals in 40 league games to twice secure the Golden Boot. In 2012/13, his 31 goals saw him become the first player to reach the 30-goal mark in a single season.

However, Al Ain enter the rebranded Arabian Gulf League with a few doubts regarding the sustainability of recent success, as Cosmin Olaroiu, the coach who guided them to titles No 10 and No 11, has left the club and taken the reins at Ahli. His replacement, Jorge Fossati, although a manager with an impressive pedigree, is untested in UAE football.

Also, Ahli and Al Jazira - the Abu Dhabi side considered Al Ain's other genuine rivals - have strengthened significantly.

Gyan is enthused by the addition of new teammates in the goalkeeper Khaled Essa, the midfielder Ibrahim Diaky and the Brazilian Michel Bastos.

But the Ghanaian is not taking anything for granted.

"Things will be more difficult than the previous seasons, as I expect there will be strong competition across all the tournaments," Gyan told media in his homeland.

"It will be a bit complicated this year, because everybody has got Al Ain in the back of their heads and everyone wants to stop Al Ain.

"But we are up to the challenge.

"We have great names, and the team has been strengthened with more good players. I have great confidence in the ability of these players. They have the quality to win the title again, so why not?"

Al Ain begin their title defence next month at Al Shabab, but before then they face Ahli on August 30 in the season-opening Super Cup encounter.

The two sides did not enjoy the best of relationships last year, meeting three times with Ahli winning twice.

The second clash was marred by an incident in which an object thrown by a fan injured a referee's assistant, before a tempestuous President's Cup semi-final resulted in Al Ain finishing the match with nine men.

Mohammed Ahmed and Omar Abdulrahman each collected second bookings late on, while a visibly irate Olaroiu was sent to the stands, too.

The Romanian occupies the opposite dugout, of course, although Gyan was eager to highlight that Ahli's threat does not simply come from their latest coach.

"Cosmin is not the only person who makes the difference; for the past two years Al Ain and Al Ahli have created a big rivalry," Gyan said. "But every team wants to beat Al Ain. We'll see a fiercer competition next season."

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