x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Too close to pick a winner

Coach Hasek wary of competition but says it is good in the long run for UAE football.

Al Ahli, in red, beat Al Shabab in the Super Club. But they have to play better to win the league.
Al Ahli, in red, beat Al Shabab in the Super Club. But they have to play better to win the league.

Ivan Hasek, the Al Ahli coach, believes football in the UAE will take a giant leap forward with the start of the first Pro League. Al Ahli, who have made a winning start to the season with a 1-0 win over Al Shabab in the Super Cup, travel to Al Nasr tonight for their opening game of the League.

All the clubs have made some big-name additions to strengthen their squad during the off-season and Al Nasr have hired the Iranian international trio of Mehrzad Madanchi, the best foreign player of the league last season, Reza Enayati and Mohammad Nosrati. "Al Nasr is a big game for us and we need to play a little better [than the Super Cup]," said Hasek. "This season is going to be a lot tougher. Every club and player is professional now, and each one of them will be gunning for the title. Of the 12 clubs taking part, 10 of them will be in the running for the title.

"It will be a big test for our players too: to play against big players in every game. This is good for the fans here. The clubs are improving their infrastructure and it will pay dividends in the future. With this new League, we will see a team from the UAE playing in the finals of the AFC Champions League." Besides a host of local and Asian championships, the winner of the Pro League will also be playing in the Fifa Club World Cup when it is held in the UAE next year. Hasek believes that will be an incentive for all the teams to win the league. "The Club World Cup is going to be a motivation for every club," the former Czech player said. "It is a dream for our players to take part in the Club World Cup.

Al Nasr have gone without a trophy since winning the President's Cup in 1989 and their last league title came in 1986. Nosrati, the Iranian international defender, hopes he can help end that drought. "Our confidence is boosted by the fact that we are training under [the Croatian coach] Luka Bonacic, who knows us from the Iranian league," he said. In the other games tonight, the newly promoted Ajman will host Al Wasl and Al Sharjah will travel to Al Ain. All eyes will be on the latter game as Valdivia, known as "El Mago" (The Magician), will be making his debut for Al Ain.

Also tonight, the promoted Al Khaleej entertain Al Dhafra in the third match. arizvi@thenational.ae