ABU DHABI // A convoy of almost 300 buses and hundreds of private vehicles will be heading to the capital from Ras Al Khaimah today to cheer on Emirate on the biggest day in the club's history. More than 15,000 Emirate fans are expected at Zayed Sports City tonight to see their club, who are facing relegation from the Pro League, play Al Shabab in their first President's Cup final.
"There has never been an occasion for the residents from Ras Al Khaimah to get so busy preparing for a football match," said Hamad al Awadhi, the Emirate's team administrator. "The few times we celebrated the team's success was when we earned qualification to the top tier." Emirate's reputation is that of a yo-yo team, earning promotion and then getting relegated the next season. They are in a similar position this campaign, and are second from the bottom in the Pro League with 14 points. They are above Ajman, who are already relegated, and five points behind Shabab, the 2007-08 champions. The bottom two teams go down.
That makes it all the more remarkable that they have made it to the cup final. "Without a doubt it is a big day for us at the club and the people in the emirate," added al Awadhi. "The club management offered free shuttle service by booking 60 buses three days ago, and it now stands at 280 buses. The response has been overwhelming. "We have not even reached the last eight in the cup before and to play in the final is already an achievement for us. But we will try to go one better and win it."
It is also a big occasion for Eid Baroud who took charge of the team from Ahmed al Ajlani, the Tunisian manager, in mid-January. He could become the first full-time Emirati manager to lead a UAE club to a trophy in the modern era. Emirate beat Al Wahda 1-0 through a last-minute penalty in the semi-final in Baroud's first game in charge and he has picked up eight points from his eight Pro League games as manager, although the club's chances of staying up are minimal.
"We have come this far and the players are ready for the final push," said Baroud. "A lot of good things can happen when playing on the big stage for the first time. Of course the odds are against us because Shabab are a big team and they have some dangerous players, both foreign and local. "But we know what to expect from the big teams. The first 20 minutes will tell us how the game is headed." Paulo Bonamigo, Shabab's third coach this season, has denied that his side are favourites.
"We must respect any team that has reached the final," said the Brazilian. "We are not looking at Emirate as a weak team. They have knocked out the Pro League leaders [Al Wahda] to play us and they can't be a weak team. "For us, it is our only chance to win a trophy. We haven't done well in the league but winning this final will adequately compensate for that. We have prepared well and just hope all goes well for us on the night."
Emirate can take inspiration from Baniyas, the second-division club who won the President's Cup in 1992. The Minnows defeated Al Nasr in a penalty shoot-out. Baroud added: "A Cup final is different to the league. Only one team can walk out as the winner at the end of the game. We wish it will be us." email@example.com