Shabab Al Ahli coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena and Swiss midfielder Davide Mariani attend a press conference.
Mohamad Abdullah, Staff Reporter
Al Jazira and newly-promoted Khorfakkan will set the ball rolling in the opening match of the Arabian Gulf Cup (AGC) as an action-packed and thrilling new season transpires on Thursday.
A captivating season is on the cards as Sharjah and Shabab Al Ahli bid to retain their respective Arabian Gulf League (AGL) and Arabian Gulf Cup (AGC) titles while the others will launch an assault to dethrone them.
While some clubs look to qualify directly for the AFC Champions League, the promoted ones will try to retain their top-tier status as the bottom clubs fight to remain afloat for another year.
Though defending champions Shabab Al Ahli will start their title defence against Al Ain on the second day of the Matchweek 1 on Friday, Day One features three important games that will set the tone for the new season.
Al Jazira and Khorfakkan match will kickstart the season with a 7.15pm kick-off. Meanwhile, Ajman will flex their muscles against Hatta at the same time at Rashid Bin Saeed Stadium to be followed by the Bani Yas and Sharjah clash in a late kick-off at the Bani Yas Stadium on the first day of the Matchweek 1.
Shabab Al Ahli coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena said: “I focus on the group of players I have in the team at the moment, and I work with them to help them give their best to the team.
“Al Ahli have a large group of distinguished young players, who are the mainstay of the future of the team. I will play in this game with a number of young players who did not participate fully in the previous season.
“I can try something out of the box to determine their readiness, especially as we face major challenges, including the Super match against Sharjah on Sept.14,” he said.
Shabab Al Ahli’s Swiss midfielder Davide Mariani also exuded confidence, promising to do his best to help the team achieve the set goals.
Mariani said: “The UAE league for me is new because I come to the UAE for the first time, and I look at this positively. My team has a large number of challenges and tournaments, what is important for me is to adapt to the team’s requirements to be able to provide the satisfaction to the coach and the fans.
“It is an honour to be a part of the big team like Shabab Al Ahli and play in the UAE league. I move from one place to another by virtue of my profession. I am always prepared to give everything I have for the team I play for,” he concluded.
All the fourteen teams are raring to go with their sights firmly set on the prestigious AGC trophy. They have also bolstered their squads, adding more embellishments to face the challenges of the new season. The summer break witnessed a hectic transfer window. Most of the clubs splashed out huge sums so that they could bank on the best available talent to add more mojo to their squads.
They cantered through the hectic summer transfer market and chose to go window shopping instead of a reckless signing spree as rapacious agents lurked to lure them with random recruitments.
Recruitments of the unheralded foreign players through unscrupulous recommendation in July is commonplace when the transfers window is opened.
Many of these do not last until the new season’s kick-off sometimes and are given on loan to the others or off-loaded completely.
Remarkable monetary discretion has been exhibited by the clubs this time around as they astutely plot a route back to glory after a lacklustre previous campaign.
Sharjah were crowned AGL champions, Shabab Al Ahli clinched AGC, Al Wahda and Al Ain qualified for the AFC Champions League and Emirates and Dibba were relegated while Khorfakkan and Hatta got promotion to the top tier.
Al Jazira have added more teeth to their attack by roping in star players Omar Abdulrehman and Amer Abdulrehman. They also changed their coach and brought in Dutchman Jurgen Streppel in place of Marcel Keizer after a trophy-less season.
Al Wahda also roped in new coach Maurice Steijn along with three new recruits VVV Venlo, Nicolas Milesi of Al Dhafra and Al Hussein Saleh of Al Nasr.
Champions Sharjah signed Salem Sultan, Mohammed Abdulbasit and Ricardo Gomes. All the clubs hope that the new recruits will lead to a successful streak, which will not only alleviate the pain rendered by last season’s folly but also help them achieve their goals. As all the 14 clubs gear up for the battle royale, star players are likely to hog the limelight once again. The arrival of Omar will surely will have a positive effect on Al Jazira, who look to end their trophy drought.
Sebastian Tagliabuz, who was the top scorer with 27 goals, will be the player to watch. He will bid to emulate his performance while second-placed Ali Mabkhout and Welliton will look to obliterate their last season records in order to better their best.
Both Shabab Al Ahli and Sharjah did try to break the deadlock but the former were more aggressive as they created more chances in the first-half.
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