Mohamed Aboutrika and Christian Wilhelmsson are the new additions for Baniyas, who will meet Al Ain in a President's Cup quarter-final match on Sunday, writes Amith Passela.
Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu already wary of Baniyas newcomers
The signing of the 34-year-old Al Ahly playmaker and the Sweden international Christian Wilhelmsson during the winter transfer window has rigidly reinforced Baniyas' foreign contingent.
Aboutrika is on a six-month loan move as a direct replacement for his compatriot Mohamed Zidan. Wilhelmsson, the Sweden international, arrives from Los Angeles Galaxy after also taking in spells with Anderlecht, Nantes, Bolton Wanderers, Roma, and Saudi giants Al Hilal and Al Ahli during his career.
"They certainly are a couple of high-profile players and their signings only goes to show the club's ambitions," Jozef Chovanec, the Baniyas coach, said of his new arrivals.
"These two players don't need any introductions. They are here to raise the level of the team and fulfil the club's ambitions for this season.
"Aboutrika and Wilhelmsson have had very little time with us though. But being experienced players I would like to think they would adapt very quickly. It is an important game played in the knockout format and against a very strong team."
Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, said he was aware of the potential damage both Aboutrika and Wilhelmsson could inflict on his team.
The Swede played under Olaroiu when he was coach of Hilal while the Egyptian was on his radar before a potential move to Saudi Arabia fell through.
"I know them both very well," Olaroiu said. "They are very smart and dangerous players to have on the other side. I know Aboutrika because I did a lot of research on him before we started talks with the player at Hilal.
"We will have both of them marked because I know their capabilities. However, at the same time we will play to our own strength and not be intimidated by the presence of Aboutrika and Wilhelmsson."
Al Ain were 3-0 winners over Baniyas in their only meeting this season, in the league, on December 5. But Olaroiu still remembers their President's Cup exit after Andre Senghor's goal in a 1-0 defeat last year.
"You can't count Senghor out of the Baniyas line-up. With him, we have three players to look out for," the Romanian said. "I don't want my players to think they defeated Baniyas more than two months ago and we can win again. The past results won't matter. That will not be our approach, particularly in this knockout format.
"Here we are meeting a stronger team with two new foreign players in their line-up. They mean business and we have to be prepared to face any team and win."
Al Ain are still without the services of Asamoah Gyan, the striker who has scored 21 goals this season in the Pro League, who was fulfilling his final commitments with Ghana at the African Cup of Nations in last night's third-place play-off against Mali.
Mahmood Al Mas, the goalkeeper, is also unavailable with Dawoud Sulaiman, who was part of the UAE's Gulf Cup success in Bahrain last month, set to deputise.
UAE national team players return to fold for Al Ahli
Al Ahli will be looking to banish the ghosts of their 3-0 Etisalat Cup loss to Dibba Al Fujairah when they meet the Pro League backmarkers in the quarter-finals of the President’s Cup on Sunday night. Struggling in the absence of their Brazilian striker Grafite, who is serving a six-match ban, Ahli have just one win in their last five games – a penalty shoot-out triumph over Al Dhafra in the last round.
They are boosted by the return of their national team players Ahmed Khalil, Ismail Al Hammadi, Abdulaziz Sanqour, Abdulaziz Haikal and Majed Hassan and will be optimistic of reaching the semi-finals.
Dibba, who defeated Al Wasl 2-1 to reach the last eight, upgraded in the winter transfer window with the additions of Ghanian midfielder Samuel Ocran and Lebanese defender Bilal Najjarine, along with several Emirati players, and will seek to inflict another cup defeat against Quique Sanchez Flores men.
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