x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 July 2017

The clash of the titans as Maradona faces Sanchez Flores

Al Ahli under the Spaniard have vastly improved, while the Argentine's side is suffering through a process of transition.

Diego Maradona's side Al Wasl have only won two points from their last five league matches.
Diego Maradona's side Al Wasl have only won two points from their last five league matches.

Diego Maradona and Quique Sanchez Flores rate as the best-known coaches in the country, but when their Al Wasl and Al Ahli sides meet today, two managers with global reputations will be looking to advance up the Pro League table.

Wasl are in a flux. Maradona's side have only two points from their past five league matches, and were ushered out of the President's Cup by Al Wahda on Tuesday.

The Argentine appears to be in the process of a teardown-and-build-up process. Wasl have changed out half of their four foreign players, bringing in the Iran striker Mohammed Reza Khalatbari and the Argentina midfielder Juan Ignacio Mercier, and giving opportunities to several players with little experience beyond the reserve club.

Maradona was thoroughly composed, after the President's Cup exit, and said that winning league matches remains a priority for his side, which he has conceded cannot win the championship.

Sanchez Flores's Ahli side, which he has led since mid-November, are a team on the rise; they have seven points from their past three league matches, and have passed Wasl in the table ahead of the match tonight at the Rashid Stadium.

Their surge comes with only two foreigners regularly in the side; Luis Jimenez, the Chilean midfielder, seems to have lost his place to Ahmed Kahlil, the UAE national, and Jakson Coelho is out of the club entirely.

Ahli have received strong performances from Ismail Al Hammadi, the national side winger, as well as Grafite, the Brazilian striker.

Wasl easily won the teams' only match this term, a 4-0 President's Cup rout last month. Mariano Donda and Juan Manuel Olivera each scored twice for Wasl.

As the first half of the season ends today, both Ahli and Wasl still can aspire to a 2013 Asian Champions League (ACL) placing; they are five and seven points back, respectively, of Al Shabab for an automatic ACL berth, and six and four behind Al Nasr for a play-off berth.

Sanchez Flores was a fine player, mostly with the Primera Liga side Valencia, but not in Maradona's class, as very few are.

The Spaniard has the more impressive coaching record, however, having secured two Uefa Champions League berths for Valencia, one of which was a quarter-finals appearance in 2007, and leading Atletico Madrid to the Europa League championship in 2010 and the Copa Del Rey final in the same year.

poberjuerge@thenational.ae