x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Al Ain handball team aim for return to glory days

Belhareth is back at the helm as coach of handball team and is hopeful of winning a 'title or two' or a top-four finish.

The Al Ain handball team have four members in the national side and will be hoping to lead the way in reviving the club’s fortunes as they prepare for the season ahead with a two-week training camp.
The Al Ain handball team have four members in the national side and will be hoping to lead the way in reviving the club’s fortunes as they prepare for the season ahead with a two-week training camp.

Al Ain are hopeful that an early start to handball training, the return of a previous coach, and the addition of several new players will lead to a revival in their fortunes after a disappointing season last year.

Adnan Belhareth, the Tunisian coach who quit midway through last season, has returned on a new one-year contract. Among the new signings are Ahmed Al Qizani, a Tunisian international, and the Emiratis Yousuf Hassan, from Al Wasl, and Mohammed Ramadan, from Al Nasr.

"Like our football team, we had a poor last season, and the club management has taken immediate steps to build a strong squad and prepare early," said Abdulrahman Nasseb, a former UAE international, and now the director for handball.

The team are holding a two-week training camp in Abu Dhabi and have scheduled friendly matches against teams from Oman and Kuwait as part of their preparation for the Federation Cup, the season-opening competition which starts October 21.

Al Ain finished a disappointing seventh last season, after having won the league five times previously. They have also won the President's Cup and the Federation Cup several times.

"This is the best preparation we have had for a long time," Nasseb said. "Obviously the objective is to win all the trophies but we will be satisfied if we can achieve something better than the last season.

"The new management that took over towards the end of last season has done a tremendous job so far. They have left no stones unturned to raise the levels of all sports in the club, including football and handball."

The Al Ain football squad underwent a major overhaul after finishing one place above relegation last season. They finished 10th in the 12-team league.

The club's board of directors replaced the entire club management including the technical staff and the foreign players.

The new management recruited several profile signings, including Asamoah Gyan, the Ghana international from Sunderland, the English Premier League club, Ignacio Scocco from Argentina, Mirel Radoi from Romania and Yasser Al Qahtani, the Saudi Arabia captain, besides several Emirati signings.

Their changes to the handball team began with the re-signing of Belhareth as the coach.

"I left after five months because we had a lot of problems and there was no harmony," Belhareth said. "It was difficult to work under those conditions.

"However, I don't want to talk of the past.

"I am looking forward for a good season ahead. We have already done some good work on our preparations.

"The club management has given us the full backing and the atmosphere has been good."

Belhareth has been working with the squad since mid-July to prepare for the four domestic competitions - the Federation Cup, President's Cup, league and the Super Cup.

He said the club's aim this year would be to finish in a better position than last year's seventh out of nine teams.

"Al Ain have been among the top three teams in the country and we will work hard to get back to those glory days," he said.

"The squad this season is a mixture of youth and experience. Some of the senior players who didn't play last season are back to strengthen the squad."

Belhareth's focus will be on the Federation Cup from October 21 to January 6, and then the league after a three-week break because of the Asian Championship in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from January 26 to February 6.

Al Ain have four players - Ibrahim Gharib, Abdulla Omar, Saeed Khalfan and the goalkeeper Faisal Al Kaabi - in the UAE national team, who are in Group B along with Bahrain, Qatar, Uzbekistan and Saudi Arabia.

Group A is made up of South Korea, the defending champions, Japan, Iran, Jordan and Kuwait.

The three top ranked teams from the tournament will qualify for the 2013 IHF World Handball Championship in Spain.

Al Ain won the league five times - in 1979, 1981, 1982, 1994 and 1998 - and have claimed the Federation Cup six times. They also won the Gulf Club championship in 1981 and the Arab Cup in the following year.

However, the last time they won a title was the Federation Cup in 2007.

"It is true Al Ain haven't won a title in more than four years but they have always been in the top three or four, barring the last season," Belhareth said.

"I am pretty confident we can be among the top four teams and hopefully win a title or two."

apassela@thenational.ae


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