x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Harder to defend title says Al Ain manager Olaroiu

"All in all, it is going to be stronger and exciting league and the champions may not be decided until the last game."

AL AIN // Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, thinks winning the season-opening Super Cup has simply added to the pressure on his team to retain the Pro League title.

"It was easier when we won the league but this season it is going to be different and a lot harder," the Romanian said as his team begin their title defence of the league tonight with a home game with Al Ahli.

“Every team will want to win against us as we are the champions. Then there is also the pressure from our fans. The expectations will be very high after we won the Super Cup.

“I have already told my players to forget the Super Cup and to concentrate on the league, which would be our main objective again even if it is going to be much harder task to achieve.”

Olaroiu thinks the biggest challenges to Al Ain’s title defence will come from Ahli, Al Jazira, Al Nasr, Al Shabab and Al Wahda.

Asked about his opinion on the new 14-team expanded top flight, Olaroiu said: “We need to see how Al Shaab and Al Dhafra [qualifiers from the promotion play-offs] will perform.

“If they do [well], which I am sure they will, it will make the expanded league more meaningful.

“Then there are some teams that cannot win the league but they can certainly ruin the chances of another. All in all, it is going to be stronger and exciting league and the champions may not be decided until the last game.”

Apart from the injured Abdulaziz Fayez, Olaroiu is expected to name the same line-up that won the Super Cup in a penalty shoot-out against Al Jazira after a 0-0 draw.

Fayez suffered a knee injury in that game and is set to be out for six months. His place in the side will be filled by the experienced Ali Al Wehaibi, who returns from injury.

Al Ain are yet to sign an Asian player to complete their quota of oversees players and Olaroiu said the club was still in talks regarding the players in their shortlist.

Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, believes tonight’s game will be one of their biggest matches of the season.

“As a player and coach, this is a game I am looking forward to,” said the Spaniard. “We will try to return with three points but even a draw can be a satisfying result for us.

apassela@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE