ABU DHABI // Al Ahli open their campaign for the 2016/17 season with a tough away game to Al Nasr in the opening round of the Arabian Gulf Cup, the highlight of Friday's matches.
The Arabian Gulf League champions have made a significant move to bolster their squad with the loan acquisition of Ghana striker Asamoah Gyan from Chinese Super League club Shanghai SIPG. Gyan, who enjoyed four goal-and-trophy laden years at Al Ain from 2011-15, returns to the UAE to reunite with Cosmin Olaroiu, his manager for two years at Al Ain.
Gyan replaces the Senegalese forward Moussa Sow, who secured a switch back to Fenerbache before the close of the European transfer window on Wednesday. However, Gyan will not be available for selection as he has been called up for his country’s upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda on Saturday.
Gyan, who scored a remarkable 128 goals in 123 matches for Al Ain, will band together with Brazilians Rodrigo Lima and Everton Ribeiro and South Korean Kwon Kyung-won in Ahli’s foreign contingent.
In the other games, Al Dhafra play promoted Hatta in the early Group A game (5.55pm kick off), while Al Ain are at home to Kalba in Group B (8.30pm).
Henk Ten Cate, the Al Jazira manager, believes his side has the quality to challenge for all three domestic titles this season ahead of their clash with neighbours Al Wahda on Saturday.
“Last year I came midway in the season and I had nothing to lose. Now I have everything to lose. That’s the difference,” said the Dutchman, who secured one trohoy last season in winning the President’s Cup.
“I’m really, really happy with the team when looking ahead to the new season. We have prepared well this year with camps in Holland and Germany.
“We played some good games, won one, drew one and lost two, but I saw some really good football from the way they played these games.
“The team has changed a lot. We defended a lot and depended on the counter-attack last season. Now we are more in control of the game, pass the ball better and we now have a good composure in the team.”
Ten Cate was impressed by the returning Jefferson Farfan and new recruit Mubarak Boussoufa, the Morocco international, but said they are yet to finalise their foreign quartet from a list that also includes Mirko Vucinic, Angel Lafitta, Thiago Neves and Park Jong-woo.
“We have time until October to decide on that,” he said.
Farfan signed from Bundesliga club Schalke for €6 million (Dh24.4m) deal for three years in 2015 but an ankle injury sidelined him for the whole of last season.
“He is a new player to me and I’m quite impressed in what I have seen on him so far,” Ten Cate said of the Peruvian forward.
Jazira play Wahda at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday (8.30pm) while Al Wasl play Sharjah at the Zabeel Stadium (5.45pm) in the early fixture. Al Shabab meet Dibba in the other match, to be played at Al Maktoum Stadium (8.30pm).
The Arabian Gulf Cup comprises two groups of seven team. Each team plays six matches with the top two teams from each progressing to the semi-finals.
CORRECTION: This article was changed on Friday, September 2, 2016 to reflect that Asamoah Gyan will not make his debut for Al Ahli on Friday as he is currently with the Ghana national team to prepare for their upcoming Africa Cup of Nations qualifier against Rwanda. Originally we said that he was in line to make his first start for the club.
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