x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Pro League teams prepare to face lower league opposition

Masafi Sports Club will be out to shock another Pro League team when the third division side from Ras al Khaimah meet Al Ain in the second round of the President's Cup.

ABU DHABI // Masafi Sports Club will be out to shock another Pro League team when the third division side from Ras al Khaimah meet Al Ain in the second round of the President's Cup at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai at 8pm tonight.

Masafi, who play in Group B of the second division, which is effectively the third and lowest division in UAE football, beat Sharjah 4-3 on penalties in September after holding the eight-time President's Cup champions to a 1-1 draw.

Two other last 16 games pit lower-tier clubs against Pro League sides: Ajman take on Al Wahda, the Pro League champions, at the Al Maktoum Stadium at 4.05pm today and Armed Forces go up against Al Wasl at Khalifa Stadium in Al Ain at 8pm tomorrow.

The President's Cup is the UAE's premier cup competition, but the elite teams generally the lower league clubs and how they play, leading to the tantalising potential for upsets.

Josef Hickerbserger, the Wahda coach, conceded that almost all he knows about Ajman is that they played in the Pro League last season before being relegated.

"If we play seriously, it should be no problem," he said. "But we have had bad experiences with second division clubs before; we lost to Emirates in the Super Cup this season, and they are now in the second division."

He said Wahda would play something close to their best line-up, aside from the Brazilian midfielder Magrao, who is not fit.

"This is an important competition. We would like to win at least one cup this year," the Austrian added.

Dibba al Fujairah and Al Dhaid of Sharjah also eliminated Pro League sides in the first round, ousting Dubai 2-1 and Kalba 4-2, respectively. They play each other at Emirates Stadium in RAK at 4.05pm tomorrow.

Their game, plus Emirates' contest with Al Oruba of Fujairah at Sharjah at 8pm tomorrow, means at least two lower division clubs will reach the quarter-finals, set for February 24-25.

"Like in England's FA Cup, there always are surprises in President's Cup play," said Yousuf Abdullah, general secretary of the UAE FA.

"Masafi kicked out Sharjah in the first round, and the level is different between them and Al Ain, but they will fight hard against Al Ain and over 90 minutes anyone can win."

Al Jazira play Al Nasr at 4.05pm in Al Ain today, with Al Ahli against Al Dhafra to follow at 8pm. The third match involving two Pro League clubs pits Baniyas against Al Shabab at Al Ain tomorrow at 4.05pm.

The incentive for the team that win the President's Cup is an automatic berth in the 2012 Asian Champions League. Emirates are playing in the Asian Football Confederation's elite club tournament this year because they were the surprise winners of the President's Cup last year despite going on to be relegated from the Pro League.