x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Yasser Al Qahtani is vital to Al Ain's chances of title win, says coach

The Saudi Arabia striker is nearing full fitness and Cosmin Olaroiu expects to play him in tonight's match against Al Wahda.

Yasser Al Qahtani vies for the football against Emirates last Saturday.
Yasser Al Qahtani vies for the football against Emirates last Saturday.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, has backed Yasser Al Qahtani to keep his side on course for the Pro League title, starting with tonight's match against Al Wahda, even if the star Saudi Arabian striker, is not fully match fit.

And the Romanian says that, once Asamoah Gyan returns from the African Cup of Nations, he and Al Qahtani will form probably the most potent strike force in the Pro League. The duo, both summer signings, have yet to see much playing time together.

Al Ain, the league leaders, have only dropped nine points from their 12 games this season, but five of those came in the three matches since Gyan joined up with Ghana, including a first defeat, to Al Nasr, in their last match.

"We still have some problems in the scoring after Gyan went to play with his national team," Olaroiu said. "It's difficult to say that we have sorted out this issue as we have seen that in the match when we played against Al Shabab [1-1] and Baniyas [2-2]. We have suffered but it's normal and we tried to solve it."

Al Qahtani returned to the team after a long injury absence at the weekend, scoring in the 3-0 win over Emirates.

"The player just came back from his last injury and he is one of the important players in our full squad that will help us to the title," Olaroiu said. "I can't see him yet fully fit but we hope he can get back to his normal 100 per cent fitness."

And Al Ain's coach is excited about the prospect of seeing Gyan and Al Qahtani form "one of the greatest" strike partnerships in the UAE.

Olaroiu also revealed that there would be news on whether the club will make a permanent move for Gyan "before the end of the season" amid reports from England that Al Ain are ready to make an offer to Sunderland, the English Premier League side, to take the striker permanently.

While the game at home to Wahda will have all the tension of a derby match, the visitors are out of the title reckoning. Olaroiu believes Al Jazira, the champions, are their biggest rivals for the title, even though they are third, three points adrift of Nasr and four points behind Al Ain.

"It's difficult to say [about] the rest of the other teams because we have seen many surprises on the league," added Olaroiu

The Romanian had praise for Wahda, saying "they should be in a better position in the league standing".

Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach, takes his side into the game as big underdogs.

The Austrian has been hindered by inactivity in the transfer market and the loss of his first-choice centre-back pairing of Bashar Saeed, who joined Al Ahli, and Hamdan Al Kamali, who became the first Emirati to sign for a European side when he moved to Lyon in the French League.

It is perhaps to Hickersberger's credit that he has managed to guide the 2010 champions to within nine points of top spot in fifth place.

"The truth is that we are struggling," the Austrian said. "We meet a side that has been very active in the summer. They have secured some very good players. We have to admit they are competing for the league while we are far away from them."

He added: "We still have the quality to be one of the top teams if we are able to play the best team. We have missed players in the past and even for this game we have some players injured.

"I haven't seen the Olympic team players for three weeks but I can have a look at them when they return. Salem Saleh played around 10-15 minutes and the others [Khalid Jalal, Adel Al Hosani, Amer Omar] were not even in the bench. So I don't know in what conditions they would return."

"If all players are available, we still can be a force to move up the ladder.

Both managers recognised the importance of the match, which is probably the biggest game in UAE football and should draw an unusually large crowd, by league standards, to the Tahnoun bin Zayed stadium.

"The match against Al Ain is always big. All my players are excited and they all want to play even if they are fit or not," Hickersberger said. "It is one of the biggest challenges for a Wahda player to play away against Al Ain.

"From the approach of my players, I guess there seems to be a bigger rivalry with Al Ain than Jazira. Jazira are our neighbours and also many players have joined them in the last few years."

Olaroiu added: "We hope to see a good game. Al Wahda should be above many teams in the table. We needs our fans to supports us."