ABU DHABI // With almost half his starting line-up missing, Josef Hickersberger, the Al Wahda coach, is faced with an uphill task in the all-important Pro League match against Al Ain at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium tonight. Wahda are locked in a battle with Al Jazira, their capital rivals, for the title, and the trip to third-placed Al Ain is likely to be the most difficult of their remaining five matches.
Fernando Baiano, Wahda's Brazilian striker, is serving the second game of his three-match ban and joining him on the sidelines are Haider Ali, the captain, Mahmoud Khamis and Talal Abdulla, who were all sent off in the Etisalat Cup semi-final defeat against Jazira last month. Hamdan al Kamali, the central defender, misses out through injury, "It is a big setback ahead of a big game," said Hickersberger.
"Injuries are not uncommon but to have four players suspended is not common. "Baiano is one of our best players in attack and Hamdan is one of the best in the defence, and obviously we will miss them both. "We have decent cover but they are only a cover-up. "Having said that, we are not looking for excuses. We already knew of the players we won't start with and had trained with a different combination.
"Hamdan's injury two days before the game was unexpected, however." The experienced Basheer Saeed will marshal the defence with Pinga and Magrao, the Brazilians, in midfield. Ismail Matar will spearhead the attack alongside Mohammed al Shehhi. In the absence of Baiano, Wahda's top scorer, Hickersberger has turned to Matar to deliver. "Ismail's performances in the last two games have been very encouraging," he said. "He is returning to his best and I would expect him to play a big role in this game."
Al Ain go in to tonight's match eight points adrift of Wahda and knowing defeat would end what slim title hopes they have. Toninho Cerezo, the Al Ain coach, said they will not go down without a fight. "We have a very hard task in getting back into the competition but a win will close the gap to five points," he said. Cerezo will be without Jorge Valdivia, the Chile international, who is suspended.
"We are at full strength barring Valdivia," he added. "He is an important player but his absence will not have a great impact on the combination we have for this game. "We are also playing at home and I would like to think that little advantage would also help." Valdivia's place is expected to be filled by Lee Ho, the South Korean, while Marcio Emerson, the Brazilian and Jose Sand, the Argentine, will lead the attack.
Baniyas are looking to consolidate fourth position when they travel to Dubai for the early game with Al Shabab at the Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium. Shabab are in ninth spot and are fighting to avoid relegation with Al Nasr and Emirate. Four points separate the trio, with Ajman, who have five points, all but relegated. @Email:email@example.com Al Shabab v Baniyas, 5.55pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1 Al Ain v Al Wahda, 8.30pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1