x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Battle among top two in Arabian Gulf League has little impact, says Olaroiu

League leaders in top-of-the-table clash against Al Shabab while Al Shaab hopes to improve dimal league record and Al Wasl are still full of confidence, writes John McAuley.

Al Alhi have not won over their last three league matches and Hugo Viana, centre, is hoping to end the recent slide. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Alhi have not won over their last three league matches and Hugo Viana, centre, is hoping to end the recent slide. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // Hugo Viana has challenged his Al Ahli teammates to respond to last week’s defeat to Al Wasl when they entertain their surprise title rivals Al Shabab on Friday night.

The Arabian Gulf League leaders play host to their closest challengers, both geographically and in the standings, knowing another derby reverse would allow Shabab to climb over them to the top of the table.

Ahli enter the fixture on the back of three league matches without victory and fresh from seeing their unbeaten beginning to the 2013/14 league campaign halted by Al Wasl.

On Sunday, Ahli seemed set for a third successive draw until Maher Jassim struck two minutes from time to seal a 2-1 Wasl win.

“We have to show what we can do and play differently from the last game,” said Viana, Ahli’s Portuguese playmaker. “We’re not happy with our performance, but we’re confident we’re better than what we showed then.

“We have to be fully concentrated on the Shabab game to get the result. All players are important. There is no such thing as local players or foreign players – we are one team and we need to play together and do our best.”

Ahli will be without Amir Mubarak, the midfielder who serves a one-match suspension, although they are bolstered by the return from injury of the UAE international Majed Hassan.

Shabab trail Ahli by one point, but Cosmin Olaroiu, the Ahli coach, said it is too early to suggest tonight’s match will be decisive in determining a champion.

“It’s a long way to the title,” said the Romanian, who will watch the match from the stands as he contests a six-month touchline ban handed down last week by the Football Association. “People are talking about winning the championship, but we need to maintain our focus.”

Al Shaab v Dubai

Al Shaab will be hoping to end their dismal record in the league when they meet Dubai in a bottom of the table clash.

The Sharjah club have four points from 10 games and were beaten by Al Ain 5-2 in their last game, caretaker coach Jassim Yousef’s first game in charge since Marius Sumudica left the club.

Emirates v Al Wasl

Al Wasl travel to Ras Al Khaimah for a meeting with struggling Emirates full of confidence after becoming the first team to inflict a defeat on league leaders Al Ahli.

It was the perfect way for Wasl to respond after a 6-1 mauling they received against Al Nasr in the previous league game.