x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 16 January 2018

Pro League round-up: Before they hoist trophy, Al Ain want to finish season strong

Al Ain manager Cosmin Olaroiu said he will bring back regular starters for season finale against Al Nasr while Hugo Viana edges closer to Al Ahli move, writes John McAuley.

Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu, centre, is asking for all of the club supporters to come to the season finale on Friday night and help celebrate Al Ain's second straight league title. Silvia Razgova / The National
Al Ain coach Cosmin Olaroiu, centre, is asking for all of the club supporters to come to the season finale on Friday night and help celebrate Al Ain's second straight league title. Silvia Razgova / The National

AL AIN // Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, will revert to his best available starting XI for the final game of their season on Friday, as the UAE champions prepare to be awarded the Pro League trophy.

The Romanian has fielded largely experimental sides since confirming their second successive championship with four matches left in the season, beginning the past three rounds with a number of reserve players.

Opportunities have been provided to the likes of Yousef Ahmad and Sultan Nasser, however this evening's match against Al Nasr, which kicks off 6.15pm, will see the majority of first-team regulars return to the line-up.

"It's the last game, so we want to play well and win to leave a good impression for the end of the season," Olaroiu said. "This week, I asked the players to be concentrated and to train to their maximum. I've left them a little free the past few weeks, so they didn't feel my pressure, but this week, I have been watching them closely.

"We want to give our best against Al Nasr to end the season well and to help celebrate the title."

It is the second time in 12 months that Al Ain conclude the campaign by lifting the trophy in front of their own supporters at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

For the festivities, Olaroiu has almost a full squad to choose from, although Alex Brosque, the Australian forward, is missing because of injury. His coach, though, warned his side not to be distracted by tonight's celebrations, which include an open-top bus parade after the match.

"Al Nasr are an enthusiastic team and are very organised – the fingerprint of [manager] Walter Zenga is so clear," Olaroiu said. "It'll be hard to defeat them, but we are ready to take this challenge."

Olaroiu has called the club fans to celebrate the crowning ceremony of the team as the Pro League champions for a second year in succession at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed stadium.

"Let’s celebrate the achievement which is the dream for many clubs," he said. "Let’s work on making it a real habit every year by having one big family get together. The games to honour the team’s achievement are the most important ones in the season. It is a time for everyone in the club and the fans along with the players to celebrate.”

Hugo Viana edges closer to Al Ahli move

DUBAI // The potential transfer of Hugo Viana to Al Ahli has moved a step closer with the player reportedly travelling to Dubai to discuss terms with the Pro League club.

The Portuguese midfielder, currently employed by Sporting Braga, is believed to be keen on negotiating a two-year deal at the Rashid Stadium. His signing would appear to increase the likelihood of Quique Sanchez Flores extending his stay beyond this season, as it is understood the coach requested the bid for the player he once managed during his time at Valencia, the Spanish Primera Liga side.

Viana’s arrival would appear to signal the end of Ricardo Quaresma’s short Ahli career, with the winger expected to swap the UAE top flight for Turkey’s Super Lig. Galatasaray is the most likely destination, for a fee of €3 million (Dh14.1m).

Viana did not train with Braga on Thursday, prompting reports in Portugal that the former Sporting Lisbon and Newcastle United star had departed for Dubai. The 30 year old, a free agent when his contract expires on June 1, has significant international experience, too, and was part of Portugal’s squad at both the 2002 and 2006 Fifa World Cup.

He was also included in his national team’s 23-man roster for last summer’s European Championships in Poland and Ukraine.

Ahli have refused to comment on prospective transfers until they conclude their season with the President’s Cup final against Al Shabab on Tuesday night. However, on Thursday a Portuguese website, Maisfutebol, quoted Roy Aitken, Ahli’s director of football, as saying: "[Viana] is one of the players we are looking at.”

Aitken then seemed to rule out a fresh approach for Pablo Aimar, the Benfica playmaker linked with Ahli in January, adding: “for now, he is not a target, but in football things can change from one day to another."

Ahli are allegedly already in talks with Ibrahim Diaky, the Al Jazira midfielder, although his current club have denied a switch is imminent. In fact, the Jazira board insisted they expect Diaky, who turns 31 on Friday, to honour his contract, which runs until the end of next season.


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