ABU DHABI // Declarzing a Pro League match in early November to be potentially decisive usually would be folly, but when the opponents are the champions Al Jazira and Diego Maradona's Al Wasl, it is not outrageous to suggest that a winner tonight would rank as the favourites to win the title.
Certainly, it is the most significant match in the league so far; the clubs are two of the four on seven points after three games, and they slugged out a seven-goal thriller in an Etisalat Cup match won by the Abu Dhabi side seven weeks ago.
"I see them as a strong team," the Jazira coach, Franky Vercauteren, said of Wasl. "They were maybe the only team that in the second half of a game was able to put us under high pressure and put us in difficulty.
"A good team, good players who can make a difference scoring. Probably one of the best teams in the league, of those we have seen till now."
Jazira survived a hat-trick by Mariano Donda in the cup match, and Vercauteren said his side will be aware of Maradona's Argentine compatriot, unless a minor injury sidelines him.
"He is a player with quality, so we have to be more careful," Vercauteren said. "In the games that we have seen him, he has made a difference, and a player who makes a difference requires attention. But [Juan Manuel] Olivera is also dangerous, and he scores, too."
Richard Porta, the Uruguayan-Australian forward and Wasl's latest addition, could make his debut in the first XI tonight if Rashid Essa is not fully fit.
Maradona said his side will be ready for Ricardo Oliveira, Jazira's Brazilian striker, who leads the league with five goals, one more than Wasl's Olivera.
"Al Jazira depend upon Oliveira," Maradona said. "He's dangerous from both sides and poses a key threat up front when supplied by Bare, [Matias] Delgado and [Ibrahim] Diaky."
He added that if Wasl can starve Oliveira of the ball, they could take advantage on the counter attack.
Khalid Essa will again deputise for Ali Kasheif, who is out with a knee injury, in the Jazira goal. Khalid Sabeel, the right back and UAE international, is also doubtful. Wasl may be without the defender Fahad Masoud.
Vercauteren said he considers it a game between two good teams, and not a game against Maradona.
"I never look at the coach," the Belgian said. "I look at the team and the quality of his team mentally, physically, all those levels.
"That's what I respect and try to have the best information and impression of. The other things, I don't care because I am not playing against Maradona or his team.
"What matters most is what the players bring to the field. What he does, how he does his job, that's his job and not mine."