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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 23 June 2018

Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic 'very, very happy' to take on Diego Maradona and Fujairah

Arabian Gulf League leaders take on the Argentine legend's unbeaten First Division side for a place in the President's Cup semi-finals

Diego Maradona will lead his Fujairah side, unbeaten in the First Division, against Arabian Gulf League leaders Al Ain in the President's Cup quarter-finals. Christopher Pike / The National
Diego Maradona will lead his Fujairah side, unbeaten in the First Division, against Arabian Gulf League leaders Al Ain in the President's Cup quarter-finals. Christopher Pike / The National

Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic says he will put to one side the “big, big pleasure” of pitting his wits against Diego Maradona on Thursday as his side attempt to avoid an upset in the President’s Cup quarter-final with Fujairah.

The UAE’s most decorated club take on Maradona’s men at Al Aweer Stadium in Dubai knowing they are heavy favourites to progress. Al Ain lead the Arabian Gulf League by four points with two matches remaining - they can seal the title next week at Al Nasr - while Fujairah sit third in the First Division, one spot outside the automatic promotion places. They are unbeaten this season.

However, Al Ain boast a far superior record in the President’s Cup having won the trophy six times. They last contested the final two years ago, losing on penalties to Al Jazira.

In contrast, Fujairah have never before qualified for the showpiece. The prospect of pulling off a shock therefore seems unlikely, although the club have been rejuvenated by Maradona’s presence. The Argentine, who captained his country to World Cup glory in 1986, joined Fujairah last May.

“It’s a pleasure to meet him and, of course, he’s one of the best players of all time in the world,” Mamic said. “It’s a big, big pleasure for me. But I have my job, he has his job and I will try to do mine better.

“I think I have a better team so it will be a little bit easier for me. But again, I’m very, very happy to meet him on the pitch.”

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Mamic has almost a full squad from which to choose, yet competition rules state that, because Al Ain are facing a First Division side, the Croat can field only two of his four foreign players. Egyptian midfielder Hussein El Shahat will fill one of those places.

Nevertheless, Mamic has promised to play his strongest possible team in a bid to ensure a heavily motivated Fujairah do not earn a famous victory.

“For Al Ain, the President’s Cup is a very important competition, and for me personally also,” he said. “We know that cup competitions – I don’t know about here but especially in Europe – there are lots of surprises, but I don’t want and I’m sure that my team doesn’t want to make a surprise.

“We respect Fujairah because it’s a team that is in the first few positions in the First Division, with good players and a good coach who was a legendary player, which is a big motivator.

"I’m sure that they’ll be very, very motivated. When you play against the best team in the country your motivation will always be at the highest level and that’s why we need to be very, very careful.

“But we have to think about our own way to play because if we play as we can, what we must, what we do on training, then we won’t have a problem. This is the only way, because the quality is on our side. But we have to prove this quality on the pitch.”

As well as the twin domestic competitions, Al Ain are competing in the Asian Champions League. The 2003 champions need only a point from Monday’s final group game against Qatar’s Al Rayyan to progress to the knockout stages.

Asked how he and his team are handling the fight on three fronts, Mamic said: “We want to be successful in all three competitions - all three are very important for us. We’re in a good position; we have to keep this way.

“The team understand they can make history this year and also to play successful football. They are very happy in training and in the games and I want them to continue in this mood. For me, as a coach, it cannot be better.”