Al Ahli face tough start to new season

Al Ahli face tough start to new season
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Published June 19th, 2015 - 22:27 GMT via

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Al Ahli team
Al Ahli team

Al Ahli senior team manager Ahmad Shah believes it is impossible to say who the West Asian AFC Champions League semi-finalists will be following Thursday’s last-eight draw.

The Red Knights were paired with Naft Tehran of Iran, while last year’s runners-up Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia will take on Qatar’s Lekhwiya in the other quarter-final.

Al Ahli’s first leg against Naft will be played on August 26, just a few days after the first round of the new Arabian Gulf League (AGL) season, which will begin earlier than usual this year.

With the UAE due to play a 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Malaysia on September 3, the Al Ahli national team players may have to delay their link-up with the Whites in order to play their big match against Naft.

“The draw [on Thursday] is very balanced for all four teams in our side of the pool. It is the quarter-finals and it could have been the two other teams [Al Hilal or Lekhwiya]. All four have worked hard to be here and all of us have an equal chance of advancing to the semi-finals,” Shah told Gulf News.

“Maybe this is not the best time of the year to play football in this part of the world. But herein lies the first of our challenges and we need to rise up to this and play as true professionals.

“It’s going to be a tough start to the season. It is an honour for us to be representing the UAE at the Asian Champions League and hopefully our players will display their true character on the pitch.”

Coach Cosmin Olaroiu, who signed a three-year extension to his contract this week, is currently on holiday in France. He is expected to be back in Dubai in the first week of July as the players have been told to report for preseason conditioning on July 10.

Following a short break for Eid, the squad will assemble again and depart for their external camp in Italy on July 21. During the course of the camp, Al Ahli will play four to five friendly matches before returning to Dubai on August 9 to start preparing for their AGL opener.

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