x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Pro League preview: The title challengers for 2012/13

Al Jazira lead the clubs wishing to yank the crown from Al Ain. Ahmed Rizvi breaks it down.

Al Jazira star man Ricardo Oliveira is challenged by Mohamed Abdulrahman during the Super Cup final against Al Ain
Al Jazira star man Ricardo Oliveira is challenged by Mohamed Abdulrahman during the Super Cup final against Al Ain

AL JAZIRA

Manager: Paulo Bonamigo

The defending President's Cup champions added striker Fernandinho and defender Shin Hyung-min to the squad, releasing Lucas Neill and Bare. Following his success at Al Shabab, Bonamigo has been brought in to manage the team, and the Brazilian will be keen to prove his worth.

2011/12 recapped: Starting the season as defending champions, Jazira were in contention throughout the first half until the Asian Champions League forced them to prioritise and they finished fourth.

2012/13 prospects: If Monday's Super Cup is any indication, they will be one of the biggest threats to Al Ain.

Key foreign player: Ricardo Oliveira, who scored 15 goals in the league last season, will again be their most important player. And he will certainly be keen to improve on that tally.

Key Emirati player: His best years are probably behind him, but Ibrahim Diaky still has a commanding presence on the pitch and demands respect.

 

AL AHLI

Manager: Quique Sanchez Flores

Most of Ahli's summer revolved around whether Sanchez Flores would continue. They finally got a yes from the Spaniard and will now be hoping to reap the rewards of that stability. The club have stuck with almost the same team, with Grafite and Luis Jimenez spurning offers from Europe.

2011/12 recapped: Ahli made a disappointing start to the league, losing three of their first four games. The arrival of Sanchez Flores turned things around and they finished fifth.

2012/13 prospects: The Dubai club were unbeaten in their final seven league games last season, winning the last five. They carried that form into the pre-season and should be in the hunt.

Key foreign player: Grafite had an impressive haul of 16 goals last season, but the arrival of Achille Emana, the Cameroon midfielder, makes a huge difference to the side.

Key Emirati player: Forward Ahmed Khalil should be keen to turn things around after disappointing last season.

 

AL NASR

Manager: Walter Zenga

Nasr have made plenty of changes after finishing runners-up last season. They have brought in the Italian Giuseppe Mascara and Bruno Correa of Sepahan. And when the Mark Bresciano ditched them for the Qatari club Al Gharafa, they got the Iraqi Nashat Akram.

2011/12 recapped: As Al Ain sprinted towards the title, Nasr were left to battle with Al Shabab and Jazira for a top-three finish, and Zenga's men eventually took the second spot.

2012/13 prospects: Nasr's last league title came in 1986 and their fans will be hoping this team can end that drought after finishing third and second in the past two seasons.

Key foreign player: With seven goals in 14 league matches for Sepahan and five in the Champions League, Correa could be in the running for the golden boot this season.

Key Emirati player: Habib Fardan, the club's lone representative in recent national teams, should again be key.

 

AL WAHDA

Manager: Branko Ivankovic

Wahda have been busy restructuring during the summer after a disappointing sixth-place last season. They have allowed Haidar Ali, Mutaz Abdulla and Omar Ali to leave for Emirates, while Yakub Al Hosani has moved to Al Ain. The Abu Dhabi club have not retained any of their foreign players.

2011/12 recapped: Wahda flirted with relegation for some time before recovering to finishing sixth as they struggled with injuries and the absence of their Emirati internationals.

2012/13 prospects: The Wahda management has made a serious bid to change things, and Ivankovic is confident his side will be contenders.

Key foreign player: Papa Waigo comes to the Pro League with an impressive CV, having played in Italy and England.

Key Emirati player: Injured Ismail Matar, when fit, he is the best in the land.

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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