Shabab Al Ahli, Al Nasr lock horns in President’s Cup final today - GulfToday

Shabab Al Ahli, Al Nasr lock horns in President’s Cup final today


Al Nasr players share a light moment during a training session. Courtesy: Twitter

Mohammad Abdullah, Staff Reporter

The desire to win a title coupled with the return of fans promises a blockbuster President’s Cup final between Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Al Nasr on Sunday.

Defending champions Shabab Al Ahli will look to retain the prestigious President’s Cup crown and book a direct berth in the Asian Champions League.

As per the present format, the top two Arabian Gulf League teams get direct entry to the group stages of the Asian Champions League and the third has to play in qualifiers to earn a spot.

But Shabab Al Ahli, who finished third, can kill two birds with a single stone. They can retain the title as well as avoid the hassle of going through the rigorous route of the qualifiers by beating Al Nasr.

The winner of the President’s Cup is guaranteed direct qualification into the group stages of the continental competition.

Shabab Al Ahli witnessed a change in fortune with the change of coach. The return of Mehdi Ali at the helm turned them from mere perennial makeweights to one of the top contenders on the domestic circuit as they finished third in the league and booked a place in the final of the President’s Cup.  Their performance in the ACL was also satisfactory, keeping in view the absence of some of their best players due to injury.

“We are playing an important match as it bears the name of the President of the state. It is a big honour,” said Ali.

“Every match is played in different circumstances, especially the finals, which needs psychological, physical and technical preparation.

“We hope that we will succeed in the match as we do not suffer from any injuries and are ready to perform to live up to the reputation of being the defending champions,” he added.

He also vowed to keep focus on their own performance rather than relying on the mistakes of the opponents and counting on other factors.

“The quieter and more focused team will be in control of the match. We are working to prepare the players for the match from a psychological, tactical, technical and physical point of view. Certainly, all of these factors have a great impact on achieving positive results,” he stressed.

Ali also ruled out banking on the absentees of their opponents Al Nasr.

“Our focus is on preparing the players for the match and preparing them to put up a strong challenge, and I do not focus on the absentees of the opposition team,” he added.

Shabab Al Ahli star striker Edurao, who was instrumental in mobilising their AGL campaign, said they are confident of lifting the crown again.

“The key to the final match is hard work and diligence during an entire season. Last week we made a lot of effort to prepare for the final, and the players are ready to give their best,” said Edurado.

“It is true that we did not start the season well, but after Mahdi took over, the team’s fortune was changed drastically. We won two championships and tried well in the league, but we did not succeed in that,” he added.

Ali replaced Spain’s Gerard Zaragoza to take over the reins of the Dubai club once again. When Ali was reinstated, Shabab Al Ahli were at the seventh spot in the league with no silverware in sight.

But not only did Ali guide them to Arabian Gulf Cup glory to salvage the season but he also steered them to the third place. Shabab Al Ahli defeated Sharjah 1-0 to win the Arabian Gulf Super Cup for the record fifth time in the beginning of the year in January.

Meanwhile, Al Nasr manager Ramon Diaz was delighted with the prospect of competing in the final of the prestigious tournament with a strong team.

“We are happy to be playing in this big game. The team is ready for the challenge both physically and technically,” said Diaz.

The President’s Cup final also marks the return of the fans, which adds another element of excitement to it. Since the outbreak of the pandemic coronavirus, the fans have been barred and all the matches are being played in empty stadia.

Vaccinated fans with latest negative reports of the coronavirus will be allowed to attend the match at 30 per cent capacity.

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