x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Etisalat Cup: Celebrations put on hold for promoted Al Shaab

Club have a packed schedule right after return to the top tier after three seasons.

Etisalat Cup games, followed by the start of the Pro League regular season, means Al Shaab, above in red, will have little rest.
Etisalat Cup games, followed by the start of the Pro League regular season, means Al Shaab, above in red, will have little rest.

DUBAI // Just four days after their dramatic win over Al Dhafra to clinch a spot in the top division, Al Shaab will be back on the pitch tonight, taking on Dubai in an Etisalat Cup match.

Five days later they will be playing their first game in the Pro League since their relegation three seasons ago.

They have had no time to celebrate their success in the play-offs. A 24-hour break was all the players got before returning to the training ground. Even their stadium is not ready to host Tuesday night's game and they will be playing at Sharjah's ground.

"The club management decided to postpone the celebrations until next week so that we could give the team full opportunity to prepare for these upcoming matches," said Dr Abdullah bin Sahu, the chairman of the club, promising the stadium will be ready at the earliest.

"There is no time to waste or rest."

Rest will be at a premium for every team this season.

The top division has been increased to 14 teams, which means more matches and, if the play-offs were an indicator, the season promises to be an engrossing one with tense battles at the bottom and top of the tables.

Every team, then, wants to get off to the best possible start.

"We have been working over the last seven weeks preparing for the start of the season," said Quique Sanchez Flores, the coach of the defending Etisalat Cup champions Al Ahli.

"For us, every game is important and I want us to start with a win because it is very important for the confidence of the players.

"This is our target and we feel we are ready for the first game."

Ahli defeated Al Shabab on penalties in the Etisalat Cup final last season and they meet their traditional rivals again this evening in the Al Ghusais derby. They met seven times last season, including two finals.

Shabab, who host Tuesday night's match, won the first - the Gulf Champions League - while Ahli took their revenge in the Etisalat Cup.

"Shabab are one of the best leagues in the UAE," Sanchez Flores said. "We know that Shabab have got good players. They have a new coach, but they are the same team. So for us it is a very difficult game. We know that, but we will try to make a good game, we will try to stay confident and continue from last season."

Ahli had a strong finish to last season, remaining undefeated in their final seven games of the Pro League. They have stuck with almost the same team for this campaign.

Abdulaziz Sanqoor has arrived from Sharjah, while six Ahli players went to the other way on one-year loans in an exchange deal.

Faisal Khalil, frustrated with his lack of opportunities, has moved on to Al Wasl.

Shabab, on the other hand, have a new coach, Marcos Paqueta, after Paulo Bonamigo left for Al Jazira. They have two new foreign players as well, the Brazilian strikers Luiz Henrique and Edgar Bruno.

Paqueta said that ideally he would have liked to have used this first game to "experiment" with his squad, to try the younger players and play them in different positions.

"I could have done that if we were not playing a strong team like Ahli," the Brazilian said. "I hope we will make a good start, especially since this is a derby game."

 

FIXTURES

Tuesday

Kalba v Al Wasl, 5.30pm

Al Shaab v Dubai, 5.35pm

Al Shabab v Al Ahli, 8.15pm

Wednesday

Ajman v Dibba, 5.35pm

Al Dhafra v Baniyas, 5.45pm

Al Nasr v Al Wahda, 8.15pm

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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