x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pressure greater on Al Ain as Asian domination also on list

Defender Ismail Ahmed predicts defending the UAE Pro League title will be much more difficult in 2012/13.

Ismail Ahmed, centre, the Al Ain defender, expects a stiff challenge from their opponents in the new season. Mike Young / The National
Ismail Ahmed, centre, the Al Ain defender, expects a stiff challenge from their opponents in the new season. Mike Young / The National

Al Ain, the Pro League champions, are under no illusions about the size of the task ahead as expectations for next season build steadily.

The club flirted with relegation during the 2010/11 campaign, but under the guidance of their Romanian coach Cosmin Olaroiu secured a 10th top-flight title last April with three matches to spare.

Much of that success can be attributed to a blistering start in which Al Ain emerged victorious in nine of their first 11 encounters. From there, Asamoah Gyan and his teammates did not look back.

Yet eyes are now firmly fixed on the season ahead, with the board in May confirming a desire to see the club not only defend their league crown, but become champions of Asia for the first time since 2003. The players realise what is expected, too, especially as they will now be viewed, domestically at least, as the team to beat.

"Our coming task will be different to last season's because competitors always look at the champions differently, where some see beating the champions as a championship in itself," said the defender Ismail Ahmed. "Opposing teams always double their efforts when they take on the title holders, which assures us that we have a special test ahead to keep the trophy in Al Ain, which will not easy.

"The coach confirmed the coming season is the real test for all the players and the management has done everything to ensure success. We are all waiting for the Asian Champions League when Al Ain will defend the UAE's name."

Al Ain are midway through an intensive three-stage pre-season, having last week returned from a training camp in Austria. They will take part in a Ramadan tournament early next month before again heading abroad, most likely to Romania.

There has therefore been little respite for the players, Olaroiu ordering double training sessions during the nine-day stay in Austria.

However, Ahmed, who featured in only eight league games last season after missing five months because of a knee injury, has enjoyed the rigorous regime.

"Early preparations for the coming season are good, but it doubles the responsibility for the players and enhances their will to win more and get more trophies, just as we did last season when we climbed to the top of the podium after eight years," said the centre-back.

"Our coach talked to us and told us the challenge is to prove that you are able of carrying the responsibility in the coming season. For me, football rewards the best on the pitch and we proved last season that we deserve to be champions."

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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