Emirate have nothing to lose: Ghrairi

Ghazi Ghrairi wants his Emirate team to play with "absolute freedom" tonight in the season-opening Super Cup match against Al Wahda.

Ghazi Ghrairi, centre, wants his Emirate team to play with "absolute freedom" tonight.
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DUBAI // Tonight's season-opening Super Cup match against Emirate is the first competitive game for Laszlo Boloni, the new coach of Al Wahda, the Pro League champions. But the former Romanian international decided to give the pre-match press conference a miss, sending Joaquin, his assistant, instead.

And Boloni will be hoping that his team will do the talking for him on the pitch tonight, as will Ghazi Ghrairi, Emirate's Tunisian coach. Ghrairi's team are the President's Cup holders and will be competing in the Asian Champions League (ACL) this season even though they will be playing in the second tier of UAE domestic football after being relegated from the Pro League in May. "If the general impression is that Al Wahda have better players than us, it is good for me and our team," Ghrairi said. "But the real level of the two sides will be known only on the field. In football, just one fact counts and that is the performance on the field.

"We do respect Wahda and they have distinguished players, but we have respectable players too, who are capable of competing for the cup with great self-confidence. We are not under any pressure and we are certainly not afraid of our opponents. "The title may be symbolic, but the game itself is very important. Of course, it will not be the end of the world for the losing side. "This is what I would like to emphasise on to my players. They should out there and play with absolute freedom."

Emirate stunned Wahda in the semi-finals of the President's Cup last season, before defeating Al Shabab in the final as Eid Baroud, their former coach, became the first Emirati to guide a club to silverware in the modern era of UAE football. In the 12-team Pro League, however, the club from Ras al Khaimah finished 11th - 44 points behind Wahda - and were relegated along with Ajman. Ghrairi, who replaced Baroud for the new season, has promised a performance against Wahda that will prove Emirate still deserve to be playing in the top flight.

"The Super Cup is a different game," he said. "Both the clubs are at the beginning of the season, but hopefully we will be able to put up an entertaining display and prove our team deserves to be playing in the Pro League and not in the First Division. "We have set goals for the entire season and we have prioritised them. "The first priority is the Super Cup and we enter this game with a lot of courage and self-confidence. I believe both teams have equal opportunities. After tomorrow, we will start thinking about the other competitions.

"The league is our main target, but the season is full of challenges. Later we have the Asian Champions League, which will be a good experience. "Participating in such a tournament will be highly beneficial for the team, especially for the youngsters who need participation at such events to mature as players. "But we will not be at the ACL just to make up the numbers. Our efforts will be to bring honour to the UAE through our participation."

Joaquin insisted Wahda were not making the mistake of taking Emirate lightly after that President's Cup upset. "This is our first official game [of the season] and we are feeling ready after the camp in Germany," he said. "We want to make the best possible start to the season and take our game to the next level as defending champions." arizvi@thenational.ae