Winning the league championship is the ultimate but taking the President's Cup plate offers immediate gratification and sometimes more suspense for UAE teams.
President's Cup supplies drama to Pro League season
If the President's Cup is second to the league championship on the wish list of domestic clubs, it is a very close second, indeed.
Winning the league plate indicates sustained excellence, but the 90-minute immediacy of a championship in a knockout competition offers more concentrated gratification.
Al Jazira can testify to that. They won the league last year, somewhat anticlimactically, clinching with three matches to play.
Their 4-0 victory over Al Wahda in the President's Cup final was, however, an emotional purging of 35 years of frustration; it was Jazira's first President's Cup championship, and the match was seen by 37,408 people at Zayed Sports City, the largest crowd to see a domestic match last term.
The 36th iteration of the Cup begins Saturday and Sunday, with the field reduced to 16 teams from the 28 of a year ago. The FA chose to limit lower-division sides to four, and they join the 12 Pro League clubs in an event of only four rounds. All matches are played at neutral sites.
A year ago, no first-round matches pitted Pro League sides, but five such matches greet the first weekend this season, with Sunday's games matching Al Wasl with Al Ahli and Jazira with Al Shabab perhaps the most compelling.
Sharjah, first-round victims a year ago, have won more President's Cups (eight) than any club and open with a match against Al Khaleej of the First Division.
Two of the four lower-tier sides, Al Dhafra and Kalba, collide in the first round Saturday.
No second-tier club has won the Cup since Baniyas in 1992.
The quarter-finals are January 9-10, the semis January 24 and the final April 23.
Ajman v Dibba Al Hosn at Dubai Stadium, 4.45pm
Al Wahda v Dubai at Sharjah Stadium, 4.45pm
Baniyas v Al Nasr at Al Nahyan Stadium (Al Wahda), 4.50pm
Kalba v Al Dhafra at Zabeel Stadium (Al Wasl), 8pm
Al Ain v Emirates at Rashid Stadium (Al Ahli), 4.45pm
Al Jazira v Al Shabab at Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium (Al Ain), 4.50pm
Sharjah v Al Khaleej at Emirates Club Stadium (Ras Al Khaimah), 8pm
Al Ahli v Al Wasl at Al Maktoum Stadium (Al Nasr), 8pm