x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Etisalat Cup tie with Al Ain offers huge opportunity for Al Wahda

Coach Branko Ivankovic to see how the younger players react to 'big test' against Al Ain in absence of established names at Etisalat Cup game.

Al Wahda have had a winning run in recent times which included a 6-1 victory over the promoted Al Shaab in the Etisalat Cup. Ravindranath K / The National
Al Wahda have had a winning run in recent times which included a 6-1 victory over the promoted Al Shaab in the Etisalat Cup. Ravindranath K / The National

ABU DHABI // Branko Ivankovic, the Al Wahda coach, thinks momentum is with his free-scoring team ahead of an Abu Dhabi derby in the Etisalat Cup at Al Ain.

Wahda thrashed new boys Kalba 6-0 in the Pro League and followed it up with a 6-1 mauling of promoted Al Shaab in the Etisalat Cup last week.

"It will be a very big test for our young players against Al Ain because they are the Pro League champions and winners of the season opening Super Cup," Ivankovic said. "Our players have done very well to win the last two games by big margins but this is the game we must win.

"The last two results have provided them a lot of confidence and certainly they will be taking this momentum in to this game with Al Ain. This game will show the quality and character of those youngsters provided with the opportunity."

Ivankovic is not going to change a winning combination as he has named an unchanged line-up.

Wahda and Al Ain will both be without several key players because of national duty and injuries. Wahda will have to do without forwards Ismail Matar and Saeed Al Kathiri, who both scored goals for the UAE in the 2-2 friendly draw against Uzbekistan on Friday.

Haman Al Kamali, the central defender, is another key player absent in the line-up. "This is another excellent opportunity for some of the youngsters to prove themselves to show their quality against one of the best teams in the country," Ivankovic said.

"They have done a great job for us so far but this is the real test for them against a quality opposition. This is the game in which they should prove themselves."

Al Ain are worst affected with Omar Abdulrahman, Mohammed Ahmed, Mohanad Al Enazi and Dawoud Sulaiman, the goalkeeper, all on national duty.

Asamoah Gyan, the club's top forward, scored the winner in Ghana during their African Cup of Nations qualifier against Mali yesterday while Alex Brosque is in Doha with the Australian team for their 2014 World Cup qualifier against Qatar on Tuesday.

Their absence is compounded with an injury to Jires Kembo Ekoko, the Congolese forward.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, is also building off impressive wins – a 7-0 Pro League thrashing of Al Dhafra and a 4-2 Etisalat Cup win at Dubai.

"Football is a team game and as long they play as a unit, the absence of key players will not be a big setback for us," the Romanian said. "Of course there are some players whose level cannot be matched by others but we will play to our strengths."

apassela@thenational.ae

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