ABU DHABI // Al Wahda and Al Ahli go in to tomorrow night's Etisalat Pro League game at the Al Nahyan Stadium missing several key players due to national duty. The UAE are leaving for Japan on Tuesday where they will play a friendly with the national team. Two days later they will fly to South Korea for their World Cup qualifer on Oct 15.
Wahda, the three-times league champions, will be the most affected without their influential forward Ismail Matar, captain Abdulraheem Jumaa, UAE Player of the Year Mohammed al Shehhi, and defenders Haider Ali and Basheer Saeed. "It is indeed a huge loss to have five main players out of the line-up for such an important game," admitted coach Ahmed Abdulhaleem. "We can't do anything about it as they on national duty. Ahli face the same problem, so it evens out a little. Yet we feel the absence of our players to be more of a disadvantage for us."
The former Egypt international believed his side were in great form and could still win the three points from the visitors, who have started their campaign brightly by claiming the Super Cup from defending league champions Al Shabab and are on top of the Pro League table with two wins. "We have played a couple of good matches too and I am sure the players can take that confidence forward for this home game," added Abdulhaleem.
"The team clicked in the latter part of last season and for us it is a matter of continuing that form." Abdulhaleem had faith in his Moroccan international defender Mourad Ainy to take the responsibility of the defence and the Brazilians Alecsandro Barbosa and Pinga to spearhead the attack. "We have a strong bench and this is a fantastic opportunity for them to show their abilities against a top side like Ahli. It is still too early to talk about the league but a win here will do a world of good for our chances."
The Ahli coach Ivan Hasek will travel without goalkeeper Obaid al Tawillah, Obaid Khalifa, Yousuf Jaber, Ismail al Hammadi and Faisal Khalil. He said: "Every game is tough but this is the toughest yet," said Hasek. "They have players of very high quality. It is the three points we are looking for. And if we can get three points from Wahda away, it will be a very good result for us." Meanwhile, the Al Ain coach Winfried Schaefer hopes the return of "Magician" Jorge Valdivia will help his team restore some lost pride in the away match against Al Khaleej.
Ain, who were so impressive on the opening night of the Pro League, were held to a goalless draw by Al Dhafra when they played without the injured Valdivia that night. The Chile international was expected to join Moroccan Soufiane Alloudi and Brazilian Andre Diaz in spearheading the attack against Khaleej, who are lagging at the bottom of the table. "We must make out for the full points we failed to win," said Schaefer. "There is no team as strong and weak. It all points out to who plays best on the day. We can't say Khaleej is a weak team when we play on their own pitch.
"It happened with Al Dhafra and I don't want to see another result that would take us nowhere in the league race." And most certainly Khaleej will face the music of an Ain backlash after failing to collect full points from their last game. And with Valdivia, Alloudi and Diaz in the frontline, the home side can't expect any sympathy from the trio. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org