ABU DHABI // Eric Mouloungui and Dino Djulbic make their debuts for Al Wahda when they meet Al Ain in the top of the table Group A match of the Etisalat Cup on Thursday night at the Al Nahyan stadium.
Mouloungui, the Gabon international, returns after ankle surgery that ruled him out for the entire first half of the Pro League season while Djulbic, the Australian centre-back, plays his first game after signing an 18-month deal for the Abu Dhabi club earlier this month.
Mouloungui, was the first foreigner to sign for the four-time league champions in the summer, but suffered his injury during the team's pre-season camp in Germany.
Djulbic replaces Mohammed Al Balushi, the Oman international was injured during his country's 2014 World Cup qualifying match against Jordan in October.
"Dino has been with us for a very short time but we need to get him adapted as quickly as possible and the same goes with Eric who has not played for more than six months," Branko Ivankovic, the Wahda coach, said.
"But I would expect both of them to play true to their potential in this game against Al Ain the result of which important for both teams apart from being a derby match."
Wahda are on top Group A with 16 points and a draw would suffice for them to be guaranteed to finish ahead of Al Ain, who are five points behind in second with a game in hand.
"The team that wins tonight will has the best chance to take first place in the group but for us a draw would be enough," Ivankovic said.
"But we are playing in front of our fans, and as always we want to win even if a draw would also be a good result for us."
Ivankovic expects Al Ain to start with their best available line-up.
Both teams have lost several players to the national squad, who play Iraq in the Gulf Cup final on Friday.
On national duty for Al Ain are: Omar Abdulrahman, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohanad Salem Al Enazi and Dawoud Sulaiman while Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana captain, is with his country as they prepare for the African Cup of Nations, which starts on Saturday.
Wahda have lost Ismail Matar, Saeed Al Kathiri, and Hamdan Al Kamali while Srdan Andric, the Croatian midfielder, is currently serving a two-match ban after the red card he received in the 2-1 win over Al Nasr.
Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, is aware of the importance on the outcome of this game.
"It is a derby game and they always have special flavour even when some of the key players are absent because of national duties," the Romanian said.
"Such matches receive great attention and have special atmosphere and history tells us only results and honourable performances matter."
Elsewhere, Al Shabab and Al Dhafra will try to get their hopes of a spot in the last four stage back on track when they meet the strugglers Dibba Al Fujairah and Kalba, respectively, in the other games.
Three points for Shabab will take them to a potential decider against Ajman in Group C while victory for Dhafra will have them in a three-way tie for the top spot with Baniyas and Al Jazira in Group B.