x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Valdivia could extend Al Ahli's inauspicious start

Mehrzad Madanchi, the Iranian winger, says that the champions Al Ahli are refusing to panic, despite the team's poor pre-season form.

Ione Andone, in blue, oversees an Al Ahli training session. The Romanian has yet to see his work during pre-season manifest itself on the pitch and will be hoping things fall into place in the Super Cup tonight.
Ione Andone, in blue, oversees an Al Ahli training session. The Romanian has yet to see his work during pre-season manifest itself on the pitch and will be hoping things fall into place in the Super Cup tonight.

DUBAI // Mehrzad Madanchi, the Iranian winger, says that the champions Al Ahli are refusing to panic, despite the team's poor pre-season form. Ahli go into tonight's Super Cup with Al Ain having won just once in the pre-season, but the Madanchi remains unconcerned. "I don't think there is a crisis just because we have lost a few friendly games," he said.

"Let us not forget that the team has suffered from a number of injuries. We have not had the full squad, neither here nor at the camps in Europe. "I can assure you that you will see the true level of our game in the Super Cup." Ioan Andone, the coach who took charge at Ahli this summer, has also played down fears that his team will suffer a slump in form after winning the league. Al Wasl and Al Shabab both finished fifth or lower after taking the title in the past two years, but the Romanian said supporters should not worry.

"I do appreciate the concerns of the fans, but I don't really see a justification for it," he said. "I don't think we should be giving too much importance to the results in the friendlies, since we were using those games to prepare for the season ahead. "We didn't have Ismail al Hammadi, who is a significant member of the team. Hosny Abd Rabo had to keep going back to play for the Egyptian national team in the World Cup qualifiers.

"We have missed many players due to injuries; even Faisal Khalil had back problems. "So things have been really difficult for us, but I believe you will see a different spirit in official games." Ahli lost to Sharjah, Ajman, Al Wasl and the Iranian side Piroozi in friendly games, and their lone win has come against Al Dhafra. And they will be without some of their most influential players at Dubai Sport City tonight, with Ismail Hammadi, Khalid Mohammed, Obaid Khalifa, Adel Abdul Aziz and Hassan Ali all injured.

Andone is expecting a tough match against an Al Ain side led by playmaker Jorge Valdivia, and who have added the South Americans Jose Sand and Emerson in the off-season. Ahli, on the other hand, are still waiting for their fourth foreign professional after failing to tempt the Czech Republic midfielder Pavel Nedved out of retirement. "Al Ain have a bunch of good players, especially Valdivia, who is a very smart, tactical player," said Andone. "So they are tough side, with a lot of ability and we respect them. Having said that, we are a strong team as well. We know it will be a tough game, but we will play like champions.

"My players were the heroes of last season and I am confident they will show their best side. We know we will have to fight to win the Super Cup and we will do just that. "Winning the Super Cup is really important for the team morale ahead of the Pro League." arizvi@thenational.ae Al Ahli v Al Ain, KO 8.30pm, Abu Dhabi Sports 1