Diego Maradona declared his Fujairah side ready to compete in the Arabian Gulf League next season after their spirited defeat to champions-elect Al Ain in the President’s Cup on Thursday.
The east coast club, currently third in the First Division and attempting to gain automatic promotion to the top flight, were beaten 4-2 in the quarter-final at Al Aweer Stadium in Dubai despite taking an eighth-minute lead through Mohammed Khalfan.
Al Ain rebounded courtesy of first-half goals from Ahmed Khalil and a Hussein El Shahat double, before Khalid Abdullah pulled one back for Fujairah eight minutes after the break. However, Caio made certain the result in injury-time.
Al Ain remain on course for the double, given they lead the Arabian Gulf League and need only one win from their remaining two matches to seal the title. It explained Maradona’s upbeat mood after the match, despite Fujairah suffering their first defeat of the season.
“We played 20 matches in the league without a single loss, but it was bad luck to play against Al Ain here,” said the former World Cup winner. “We proved we are ready to play in the Arabian Gulf League.
“If we are lucky to play in the top league next year, we will play as elegantly as we did today. My players are genuine men. I am very proud of them.”
Maradona singled out Al Ain captain Omar "Amoory" Abdulrahman for particular praise after the playmaker registered three assists and was close to scoring himself only to be denied by the woodwork.
“Amoory is the best player,” Maradona said. “I wish to have a player like him. We tried not to allow him to have the ball, but couldn’t. I nominate Al Ain to win the trophy.”
Al Ain will find out next Wednesday who stands in their way of a seventh President’s Cup crown, when the semi-final draw takes place. Al Wahda and Al Wasl form two of the final four, with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Sharjah playing each other late on Thursday.
Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic was pleased to have avoided an upset against Fujairah, even though his side had dominated the game.
“I am happy that we passed this game, that we go to the semi-finals,” the Croat said. “It’s not something new for me: in the cup competitions I have experience with small teams, second-division teams and third-division teams. It’s always hard, they push all the limits.
“Today my team missed lots of chances and then you can be punished. But in the end we passed the game, nobody was injured - expect a small issue with Ahmed Khalil, but he will be ready for the next game. At this phase of the competition, this is the most important thing.
“Like I said, I have experience with Dinamo Zagreb, when two times against third-division teams we won in the last minute. It’s not something new for me. And after these two games with third-division teams, both times we won the cup. It’s a good sign.”
Asked about his impression of Fujairah, Mamic replied: “It’s difficult to say something very smart because I observed the last two or three games in the league and they had a little bit of a problem in those. But I think the whole country will be interested that the coach and a good team come to the top division. I wish them all the best. But we have to wait.”