ABU DHABI // A depleted Al Wahda take the pitch for tonight's Etisalat Cup tie with 16 of their players absent because of national duty or injuries.
Half of those missing from the Abu Dhabi club's ranks are with the national team for the 2014 World Cup qualifier against South Korea on Tuesday, and the other half are recovering from injuries when the team face Emirates at the Al Nahyan Stadium.
Abdullah Salem, the team administrator, tried to take the positives out of a situation that is testing to the limits the depth of the 2009/10 Pro League champions.
"We are glad to have seven players in the UAE national team and Mohammed Abdullah Al Shaibah in the Oman national team," he said.
"If we are looking at the brighter side, the players are sure to benefit from the experience. On the other hand, we are so proud of the fact the club has been able to provide so many players for the national team.
"The Etisalat Cup is designed in such a way to allow the reserve-team players an opportunity to play, but we have to dig deep because we have eight sidelined due to injuries. This number is far too much for any team to cope with but we are not really worried."
Ismail Matar, Mohammed Al Shehhi, Saeed Al Kathiri, Hamdan Al Kamali, Basheer Saeed, Mahmoud Khamis and Adel Al Hosani are the players absent with the UAE, and Al Shaibah is heading to Australia with Oman for their match.
Salem emphasised that this was a chance for players who are not first-team regulars to impress.
"Some of these players who get the opportunity will have something to prove and we can expect 100 per cent from them on the pitch," he said.
Nayef Salem and Zayed Al Kathiri, both 20, who play in defence and midfield, respectively, and Mohsin Al Hashmi, 21, the goalkeeper, all from the Wahda Academy, were handed three-year-contracts ahead of tonight's game.
"The Al Wahda Academy has an excellent record in producing talented youngsters and it is time we started to get them into the mainstream," Salem said.
In 2010/11, Wahda also had the Club World Cup and the Asian Champions League on their fixtures list.
"This season we have only the domestic competitions to concentrate on and, obviously, the Pro League and the President's Cup are high on the priority list," Salem said. "It doesn't mean we are not going to fight in the Etisalat Cup.
"We are also in a team-building season and it is important to have a bigger squad and the Etisalat Cup is an ideal opportunity for them."
Emirates, newly promoted, fielded their reserve team in the first two games in the Etisalat Cup which they lost to Dubai and Al Wasl. With their first team back from a camp in Turkey, they picked up their first point in a 1-1 home draw with Al Ain last week.
Ion Marin faces a challenging debut as the coach of Dubai as they play host to Diego Maradona's high-scoring Al Wasl side in Round 4 of the Etisalat Cup tonight.
Dubai and Marin, the former manager at Dinamo Bucharest, will hope to slow the Wasl attack, which produced a league-best nine goals over the first three rounds of EtisalatCup play.
Marin was hired earlier this week to replace the Swiss Umberto Barberis, who in turn had replaced the Argentine Nestor Clausen after the first match.
Dubai have scored only three goals in three matches, which included a 2-1 victory over Emirates, who fielded their reserve side. The side are waiting for the Moroccan forward Nabil Daoudi to find his form, as well as the Guinean midfielder Simon Pierre Feindouno; neither has scored yet.
Mariano Donda, the Argentine midfielder, has been the trigger for Maradona's productive attack, scoring four goals.
The Emiratis, Essa Ali and Rashid Essa, have two goals each for Wasl, and the Uruguayan forward Juan Manuel Olivera has one.
Ali will not be available tonight, however, because he is with the national team in China. The game kicks off at 6.45pm
Also tonight, Baniyas will attempt to overcome a difficult three weeks marked by the death of the midfielder Theyab Awana in an car accident.
Baniyas, second in the league a year ago, have scored only two goals in three Etisalat Cup matches despite having Andre Senghor, the leading Pro League scorer last season with 18, in their side, as well as the French import David Trezeguet.
Al Ahli are fresh off a 3-1 victory over Al Shabab, a match in which the coach Ivan Hasek said he saw hints of the club's form in 2008/09, when they won the league.
Grafite and Jakson Coelho, the Brazilians, have been influential in the attack, with five goals between them. Kick-off is at 9pm at Ahli.