x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Al Ain will provide stern challenge for Manchester City

Omar Abdulrahman fitness is in question while Alex Brosque and Asamoah Gyan ready for ‘surreal’ match against English Premier League champions in front of a “near-capacity” Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, writes John McAuley.

Al Ain’s Alex Brosque, left, is more than excited about playing against Manchester City and in front of a sold-out crowd on Thursday night. Pawan Singh / The National
Al Ain’s Alex Brosque, left, is more than excited about playing against Manchester City and in front of a sold-out crowd on Thursday night. Pawan Singh / The National

Alex Brosque was enthusing about Al Ain entertaining the English Premier League champions tonight when he spoke of his excitement in playing at a “near-capacity” Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The Australian, having returned as a substitute in Tuesday’s Asian Champions League last-16 2-1 victory against Al Jazira, was quickly interrupted, an equally eager journalist informing him the match with Manchester City is in fact a sell-out.

“Really?” Brosque replied. “Even better then. It’ll be a fantastic night.”

It seems UAE football fans are not the only ones swept up in the euphoria. City, on Sunday crowned winners of England’s top flight, have spent the past two days as Abu Dhabi’s most coveted tourists, and will conclude their brief visit with a friendly in Al Ain to officially inaugurate the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The match comes sandwiched between Al Ain’s Champions League second-leg clash with Jazira and Sunday’s President’s Cup final against Al Ahli, but the Garden City side have been afforded the opportunity to share a pitch with the their lofty counterparts. That is their focus now.

“It’s been hard to think too much about it, but now [the Champions League’s] out of the way, I’m excited, as I imagine everyone else is,” Brosque said. “Just thinking about the names that will be out on the pitch, it’ll be surreal.”

While there has been no confirmation as to which players City will field, the entire squad has travelled to the Emirates. That includes a number of stars set to grace this summer’s World Cup, with Yaya Toure, Sergio Aguero, David Silva and Joe Hart expected to be in attendance in Al Ain.

“It’s one of the best teams in the world,” said Asamoah Gyan, the Al Ain striker, who captains Ghana next month in Brazil. “They’ve got great players, those who are also going to participate in the World Cup, so it’s an honour to play here against some of the world’s best. We can’t wait.”

For Omar Abdulrahman, though, it is an anxious wait. The Emirati playmaker hobbled through the mixed zone following Tuesday night’s tussle with Jazira, but hopes to be fit enough to play some part against City.

Even if he does not make it, it provides a chance to rekindle old acquaintances: in 2012, Abdulrahman spent two weeks on trial at the Manchester club after an impressive showing at the London Olympics.

“I’m hoping the injury isn’t too serious,” Abdulrahman said.

“I don’t want to lose this opportunity to play against great players like those at Manchester City, because it’s a great occasion. Everything depends on the coach’s vision for the game, so I don’t know how long I will play, if I can. But I’m very excited.”

The excitement is warranted, but it does not threaten to overshadow professional pride. Granted, Al Ain have invited a number of former players to participate – Yasser Al Qahtani and Boubacar Sanogo will be present – and players from other Arabian Gulf League clubs should also feature. However, Gyan insists that, whatever the side, City can expect a stern challenge.

“They’ve got stars, but we have to test our level and show just what we’re capable of doing,” he said.

“We’ve got quality players here who are capable of playing good football so it’s going to be interesting. Everyone’s looking forward to it.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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