x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Minnows aim to maintain their position in the top flight

Al Dhafra's Kenneth Ikwugbado is realistic enough to know he will not be lifting the Pro League title at the end of the season.

ABU DHABI // Kenneth Ikwugbado is realistic enough to know he will not be lifting the Pro League title at the end of the season. The Nigerian defender, who played a key role in helping Al Dhafra avoid relegation last season, sees the same battle ahead but says that because the club is so young, survival should be the goal if they are to eventually become title challengers. The club was formed in 2000 and this will be their third consecutive season in the top flight - their longest run.

"We have to be realistic in terms of being a smaller club," says Ikwugbado. "I have no greater wish than to see my team remain in the Pro League. We just managed to fight off relegation last season and our aim this season would be to do a little better and finish higher up the order than last season's eighth place finish." From what he has seen in training Ikwugbado believes they are a much stronger squad due to the signing of compatriot Abas Mowiwa from the relegated Al Khaleej and the Burkino Faso forward Abdoulaye Cisse, who came in from Qatar's Al Sailiya.

"Abas and Abdoulaye are proven good players, and they are quite familiar with the Pro League," added Ikwugbado. "We have a strong presence of Emirati players, many of whom have played with some of the bigger clubs. Obviously the other teams have strengthened their squads and I expect the league to be much stronger than last season. It's going to be tough for all the teams, yet I hope we can win more games than we did last season,."

When the club was formed all of Dhafra's players were drawn from fellow Abu Dhabi clubs Al Wahda, Al Jazira and Al Ain. Abu Dhabi has a total of five teams in the Pro League with Baniyas also in the division. The former Monaco manager Laurent Banide, 41, is in charge of Dhafra - who are located in the Western region. The Frenchman arrived in the UAE after spending one-year spells with Umm Salal of Qatar and also with the Kuwait Sports Club.

Dhafra play Ajman in the opening night of the Pro league on September 25. apassela@thenational.ae