x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Ahli aim to ambush Milan's winter break

Cannavaro and O'Leary prepared for tough test as Allegri prepares to field strongest side while Ronaldinho departs from Dubai.

AC Milan's Antonio Cassano, left, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic attend a training session at the Al Ahli club in Dubai.
AC Milan's Antonio Cassano, left, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic attend a training session at the Al Ahli club in Dubai.

After Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer lit up the capital city on New Year's Day with an absorbing game of tennis, the action now shifts to the Rashid Stadium in Dubai where Italian giants AC Milan play the Pro League's Al Ahli in the Emirates Challenge Cup tonight.

On the pitch for the Serie A leaders will be the likes of Alexandre Pato and Robinho, the two Brazilian stars, as well as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the two-time Player of the Year in Italy.

But fans will not see Ronaldinho, who left the Milan training camp in Dubai yesterday, reportedly to finalise a move to Gremio, his former club in Brazil.

The former world player of the year joined the Rossoneri in 2008 but has failed to recapture his form of old.

Massimiliano Allegri, the Milan coach, who has left the 30-year-old Ronaldinho on the bench for much of the season, told Sky Italia: "Maybe there was a lack of willingness on his part. I was convinced that Ronaldinho could have a great season. He started well, with a balanced side, but then everyone has to take their own responsibility."

Allegri is set to field his strongest line-up against the five-time UAE league champions so his side are well prepared when they resume the second half of the Serie A season with a game against Cagliari on Thursday.

"We must use this camp in Dubai well and must train hard and work well because the season ahead is tough," Allegri said.

"We may lead the Serie A, but the second half of the season is where things can change and we must be aware of that. Nothing is easy in world football. We are excited to be here in Dubai as we prepare for our upcoming season. We know this match will provide us with the challenge we need to be the top of our division this season."

Ibrahimovic said: "So far Dubai has been excellent for us, we are working very hard here. The team is feeling good and the weather is nice and sunny, so we are in good spirits.

"At the moment we are No 1, I am very happy about this. This will be our first game since the [winter] break and it will be a good test for us playing against Ahli."

Ahli are also taking a break from the Pro League to allow national team players to take time off to prepare for the Asian Cup in Qatar from January 7 to 27.

"It is going to be a tough challenge taking on AC Milan, yet we are ready and confident that all spectators will be thrilled with the match and the quality match. Our team is fired up for the challenge," said Fabio Cannavaro, the Ahli and former Italy captain.

David O'Leary, the Ahli coach, said: "It is a fantastic opportunity for our players to play against great players from a great side like Milan.

"I hope the evening will be a great success. I am sure it will be."