DUBAI // Be it motivated by revenge or rude health, Ajman are not playing the dutiful underdogs for tonight's Etisalat Cup final.
Already this season, Al Jazira has thrice beaten them and the celebrated Abu Dhabi club proved too good for them in the 2010 showpiece, as well.
But this is an Ajman side buoyed by securing for another year their Pro League status recent victories against more established opponents guaranteed it and in Boris Kabi, they boast the country's most in-form striker.
Founeke Sy, meanwhile, is a gifted ally in attack, forming a front pairing that is ably supplied by Moroccan playmaker Driss Fettouhi and Fawzi Bashir, the Omani midfielder. No wonder coach Abdulwahab Abdulqadir was cutting a confident figure, pre-match.
"We fully deserve to reach the final, and although we're aware of the capabilities and reputation of Al Jazira, as we've played them three times this season, hopefully the fourth will go our way," he said. "It won't be a surprise if we win."
It marks a stark contrast to three years ago. Back then, Ajman's descent into Division One had been confirmed, and the players sought to upset Jazira in the cup final to offset a substandard league campaign. However, despite competing admirably for the majority of the match, the Ajman defence was breached twice in the final four minutes, the title slipping from their grasp.
Abdulqadir denies retribution is inspiring his class of 2013, although the Iraqi has warned Jazira not to underestimate the size of the task awaiting them. "A lot of things have changed between the two teams since Jazira last won," he said.
"Then, we were relegated, but now we've beaten Al Wahda and Al Nasr in our past two games.
"So all the players are ready mentally and physically - they'll give their best. Jazira may have won before, but this time we're in our best condition."
Abdulqadir, though, will be without injured duo Ali Khamis and Shehab Ahmed, while Saleb Basheer, on loan from Jazira, is ineligible. Yet Fawzi Bashir is expected to shake off a knock collected in Sunday's training.
"There are no secrets between the two teams," the midfielder said.
"Both coaches are fully aware of the strengths and weaknesses of the opponents and will have planned accordingly, so the game is an open book. The result will depend largely on who deals best with the pressure and intensity of the events on the pitch."
Ajman have received plenty of well wishes for the match at Zabeel Stadium, prompting the club board's to meet with the players in training to pass on their regards.
“Everyone involved with Ajman is part of a family at the club and all of us and are pulling together to make the most of this opportunity,” Bashir said.
"I really hope that level of support from the fans will continue at the stadium throughout the game, as it will motivate and lift the spirits of the players even more."
[ @SprtNationalUAE ]