x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Arabian Gulf League: Our correspondents' predictions for the outsiders for the title

Al Wahda, Al Jazira, Baniyas and Al Nasr could upset the form book this season.

Al Wahda's Ismail Matar.
Al Wahda's Ismail Matar.

Ahmed Rizvi - Al Wahda

A team that finished seventh last season might not seem such a smart choice, but Al Ain finished 10th in 2010/11 and they have won two league titles since. Of course, Al Ain have the pedigree, and so do Al Wahda. The 2009/10 league champions can never be written off given their rich pool of Emirati players, such as Ismail Matar, above, Hamdan Al Kamali, Saeed Al Kathiri, Mohammed Al Shehhi and Mahmoud Khamis. Their South American trio of Sebastian Tagliabue, Damian Diaz and Marco Estrada will only add to the team's strength. Injuries have been their bane in recent seasons and if they can avoid that, Wahda will be near the top at the end of the season.

 

John McAuley - Al Jazira

Given the size of the club, their recent history, last season's third-place finish and a summer of investment, Al Jazira are the most likely to offer a challenge. Champions in 2010/11, the Abu Dhabi side failed to impact the title race the past two seasons, but showed signs towards the end of last term that coach Luis Milla was getting through to his players. Ricardo Oliveira, above, guarantees goals, Khamis Esmail is a fine home-grown midfielder, and Ali Kasheif can claim to be the league's best goalkeeper. Meanwhile, the new additions Nelson Valdez and Abdelaziz Barrada are two of the most promising recruits this summer. However, a fast start is required.

Amith Passela - Baniyas

The fourth "big" club in Abu Dhabi have the ingredients to stage a surprise. Judging by their first game, a 3-1 victory over Al Ain in a low-key League Cup match, Baniyas, even without some of their key players, had quality in all areas. They were active in the transfer market over the summer, signing Carlos Munoz, the Chile international; Luis Farina, the Argentine midfielder; and Abdulsalam Al Mukhaini, the Oman centre-back. They also boast the midfield maestro Amer Abdulrahman, above, and the productive Nawaf Mubarak, as well as one of the most productive youth systems in the country, which provides a depth of quality.

Paul Oberjuerge - Al Nasr

The nation's first football club (established 1945) are also the most overdue to claim a championship. Not since 1986 have they won the league, and with the flamboyant manager Walter Zenga gone, Nasr may seem a spent force. Not so. Their capture of the goal-scoring machine Ibrahima Toure (28 for Monaco, in 52 appearances) and Eder Luis, purchased from Vasco da Gama, make Nasr instantly dangerous. Factor in the rugged Leonardo Lima, the Australia national Brett Holman, above, and the rising UAE national Habib Fardan in midfield, and Nasr will be formidable, as well as sentimental favourites, 28 seasons after their last title.