x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Al Wahda want to give Ismail Matar perfect birthday gift

Al Wahda face Baniyas and Al Jazira, the holders, take on Sharjah in the semi-finals of the President's Cup tonight.

Al Wahda's Ismail Matar hopes to receive a belated birthday present tonight.
Al Wahda's Ismail Matar hopes to receive a belated birthday present tonight.

ABU DHABI // Ismail Matar's teammates at Al Wahda have promised their influential forward the ideal belated birthday present by booking a place in the final of the President's Cup tonight.

Matar turned 28 yesterday but his teammates have delayed the celebrations until after the President's Cup semi-final against Baniyas tonight at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.

"We have promised to win this game for him," Haider Ali, the Wahda captain, said. "For Ismail, there can't be a better present than winning a game, and this is a very important one."

Wahda have endured a disappointing season. They sit seventh in the Pro League and failed to go beyond the group stage in the Etisalat Cup. Josef Hickersberger, the Austrian coach, has rarely had the luxury of playing his preferred starting XI because of injuries.

The good news for Hickersberger is that he will have the services of all four of his foreigners: the Brazilians Fernando Baiano, Magrao and Hugo, and the Omani international Mohammed Shaibah.

"Every season has its ups and lows, and this season has been a little more frustrating because we have had so many injuries, particularly when we have two players who play in the same position," Ali said.

He believes Wahda can salvage their season by winning the President's Cup.

Meanwhile, Matar has called for his teammates to give their "best shot" if they want to win one of the two major domestic titles and a passage to next year's Asian Champions League.

"We have had our own problems but we just need one big effort and we are in the final," Matar said. "To reach the President's Cup final has been our target since we knew we had no chance of winning the league.

"We need to win just this game and everything will change for the good."

Baniyas have similar ambitions. They are ninth in the league and although they are competing in the Asian Champions League, a 1-0 defeat to Saudi Arabia's Al Ittihad on Wednesday has put a dent in their hopes of progressing to the knockout stages.

"The cup is the only hope for both Wahda and us," Gabriel Calderon, the Baniyas coach, said.

"The feelings in the two camps will be very similar and one team will leave disappointed at the end. I wish it will not be us."

Baniyas will play without the defenders Yousuf Jaber, due to injury, and his younger brother Mohammed, who is serving a one-match ban for three yellow cards. Amer Abdulrahman, the UAE Olympic team midfielder, has returned from injury for the first time in two months but is unlikely to be named in the squad.

In the other last-four match, Ibrahim Diaky believes that momentum is swinging in Al Jazira’s favour ahead of the match against struggling Sharjah.

The Jazira captain’s comments follow his side’s 2-1 victory over Esteghlal in the Asian Champions League last week, making the Pro League champions the first team from the UAE to win in Iran in the continental club tournament.

Jazira are unbeaten, on nine points, atop Group A.

“To get a first win in Iran in the ACL has boosted the confidence of the players to a new level,” Diaky said. “We travelled to Iran very disappointed and low in confidence after losing a crucial Pro League game to Emirates. It was one of those days when nothing worked right for us. But the mood has since changed after the result we achieved in midweek.”

Sharjah are bottom of the Pro League table but Diaky warned his teammates against taking their opponents lightly in the match tonight at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain.

“They are in danger of being relegated and any team in that situation will throw everything they have at us,” he said.

Abdulmajeed Al Nimr, the caretaker coach of Sharjah, knows the size of the challenge his team faces against the cup holders.

“We have a very hard task against one of the top teams in the country but that doesn’t mean we will give up our ambitions of reaching the cup final without a fight,” the Emirati said.

Sharjah lead the UAE with eight President’s Cup championships, the most recent coming in 2003.

apassela@thenational.ae

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