Defending Arabian Gulf League (AGL) champions Al Ain will be starting their post-Asamoah Gyan era by taking on the resurgent Dubai-based Al Nasr in the season opener Arabian Gulf Super Cup at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday. Action starts at 7.40pm.
The clash can be tipped as the contest between two shrewd tacticians of the sport - Croatian Zlatko Dalic and Serbian Ivan Jovanovic. Both will be itching to prove a point by winning the title here.
Al Ain coach Dalic has clearly not found a worthy replacement for Gyan but has tried to beef up his arsenal with the inclusion of Nigeria striker Emmanuel Emenike, Netherlands winger Ryan Babel and Brazilian midfielder Fellipe Bastos. However, the results in friendlies in Austria haven’t shown much promise as Al Ain only managed one draw from their four outings.
“It is a special game for us and probably, we are not that prepared for the match. However, it is a 90-minute fight for the trophy and we will give everything. Tomorrow will be the biggest test for my team,” said Dalic in the pre-match press briefing.
The coach agreed that Gyan’s exit has left a huge void but was confident of Emenike filling in his shoes. “You know what Gyan had done for us in the last four year, but we must move forward. We played good friendlies but they need time. Emenike is a good replacement and tomorrow it is a good opportunity for him and the rest of the players.”
Despite an unconvincing conditioning camp in Austria, Al Ain managed to win the inaugural UAE-Morocco Super Cup during their stop-over in Morocco. The win against top flight club Wydad Casablanca 5-4 on penalties, after both teams were locked at 3-3, would have given Dalic the spark he was searching for from his new-look side.
“Maybe it would have been better for my team to play the Super Cup late but we have to accept the schedule. The weather will be testing, 40-42 degrees, but it will be same for both team. We won a good match in Morocco and I told my players to look for inspiration from that success.”
Al Nasr, on the other hand, come into the match on the back of a 3-0 win over Ingolstadt 04 XI in their final friendly in the conditioning camp in Germany. More importantly, that match proved that their Brazilian recruit Nilmar was shaping up well to make his mark.
The 31-year-old, bought by the Blue Wave from Internacional, was on target twice and coach Jovanovic will be banking on the former Lyon and Villarreal star to deliver the goods.
Both teams had last played against each other in the quarter-finals of the President’s Cup with Al Nasr getting the better of Al Ain by a solitary goal scored by the controversial Ebrahima Toure, who however, is no longer a part of the Al Nasr set-up.
Al Nasr are clearly on the resurgent mode under the tutelage of Jovanovic, who ended the title-drought in the domestic circuit last season when they won the President’s Cup after a gap of 26 years.
“We ended last season with the President’s Cup and now we are starting the season playing for the Super Cup. We are playing the best team of the League and it will be good match, although the conditions will be difficult for both teams. I hope we have a good game,” Jovanovic added.
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