Al Jazira manager keen to kick-off UAE football season

The 2020/21 campaign starts Thursday with three Arabian Gulf Cup matches

Al Jazira manager Marcel Keizer says his players can't wait to get the delayed UAE football season started.

The Abu Dhabi club take on Kalba in one of three Arabian Gulf Cup matches on Thursday as football returns after a seven-month hiatus.

The 2019/20 Arabian Gulf League season was suspended in March following the outbreak of Covid-19.

The new season was scheduled to start last month but was pushed back a month by the Football Association.

“We are glad football is back after nearly seven months because of the pandemic,” Keizer said.

“The players are enthusiastic and ready to present the best level in our first game against Kalba.

“We are very grateful for the frontline medical staff and the institutions that have contributed to the return of activity to the country's football stadiums for the first time since last March.

“The players are excited and have reached a very advanced stage in both physical and technical readiness.”

The Dutchman largely retains the same squad as last season with Brazilian defender Renner and South African midfielder Thulani Serero kept on, while Marcos Keno returns to Atletico Mineiro after his one-year loan and Mourad Batna terminated his contract by mutual consent.

“We have the same names as in the previous season and the game against Kalba is an opportunity to test our readiness for the league,” Keizer added

“As always, we take this game very seriously and play the best possible line-up. We’ll play the match with the intention of winning and nothing else.

“We have a good group of players, including some of the best Emirati talents and I have a lot of faith on them.

“The other clubs have around five foreign players in their squads while we have just two. On that context, the others appear to have an advantage over us but that doesn’t concern us at the moment.”

Thursday's other matches sees Hatta host Baniyas while Fujairah are on the road to Ajman.

All matches will take place behind closed doors.

Waleed Al Hosani, chief executive officer of the UAE Pro League Committee, said they are looking forward to an exciting season despite the prevailing Covid-19 situation.

“The safety and protection of the players, officials and fans is a priority for us, so we call on everyone to abide by the match-day protocol requirements,” he said.

“We call on the fans to continue supporting their clubs and players. The fans are an important part of the game, but the current circumstances require playing games behind closed doors to ensure their safety and limit the spread of coronavirus.”

The cup competition will be played under a new format this season, with all matches now a two-legged knockout competition until the final.

Under the new format, the reigning champions of the Arabian Gulf League and last season's cup winners enter the competition at the quarter-finals.

Since the 2019/20 AGL season was suspended, Sharjah, champions the previous campaign, will enter at the last-eight stage along with reigning Arabian Gulf Cup title-holders Al Nasr.

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UAE national team train in Dubai

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