x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Champions Al Ain are putting in the work ahead of new Pro League season

Centre-back Ahmed says squad know they have a fight on their hands to retain title.

Al Ain’s players training in Madrid during their pre-season camp.
Al Ain’s players training in Madrid during their pre-season camp.

Al Ain's Ismail Ahmed has stressed the significance of their Spanish training camp as the club continues preparations for the defence of their Pro League title.

The champions have undertaken an intensive training regime during their 15-day stay in Madrid, and tonight face Rayo Vallecano in the second of three high-profile friendlies with Primera Liga sides.

Having played Getafe last night, Al Ain complete their schedule on September 4 against Atletico Madrid, the Europa League champions.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the coach, has been putting his players through double training sessions as they edge closer to the season-opening Super Cup clash with Al Jazira on September 17. The match at Zabeel Stadium marks the beginning of a demanding nine months for Al Ain, the Garden City club looking to retain the title while also embarking on a successful Asian Champions League campaign.

Ahmed, who will leave Spain early next week having been called up to the UAE national side for friendlies against Japan and Kuwait, said the players understood the importance of this final phase of pre-season.

"The coach is working on intensifying the amount of training for a higher level of fitness and he's also working on developing our strategy because big challenges are waiting for us in the coming season," he said.

"We are the league champions and we should keep at least the same level to retain the trophy. We also have to fight in the AFC champions because we will be representing both the UAE and Al Ain.

"We all understand to achieve your dreams you should work hard and double your efforts to develop skills for the advantage of the team. All of the players have agreed to keep our standards high."

Ahmed featured in only eight league games last season after missing five months because of a knee injury. However Mahdi Ali, the new UAE national team manager, recognises the centre-back's quality and included the 29 year old in his first squad since taking charge of the senior side.

"I feel proud and honoured," Ahmed said. "Mahdi has a rich CV and his achievements are enough to speak volumes about him."

Mahdi Ali enhanced his reputation by leading the UAE to the Under 19 Asian Cup in 2008 and the following year took the same group to the last eight of the U20 World Cup. His side then won silver at the 2011 Asian Games, and qualified for this summer's Olympics in London. "He's proved himself the best coach," Ahmed said.