Title challengers start campaign on day 2
The opening weekend of the Arabian Gulf League continues today after an exciting first day saw Ajman stun Al Nasr thanks to Mame Baba Thiam’s goal, the first of the new season. Thursday also saw Sharjah come away from Madinat Zayed with an emphatic 4-0 away victory and Al Wasl got their campaign off to a good start with a convincing 3-0 home win over Dibba.
Friday’s action gets underway at 17:50 when newly promoted duo Fujairah and Bani Yas lock horns at the Fujairah Stadium. The Sky Blues bolstered their squad with the addition of former Dibba goalkeeper Fahad Al Dhanhani as well as midfielder Fawaz Awana who returns to his boyhood club after a sting at Al Nasr. Coach Krunoslav Jurcic’s side recruited a new foreign quartet in Michael Ortega, Leroy George, Robson de Paula and Pedro Conde.
The hosts, Fujairah, on the other side added firepower in the form of Algerian striker Mohammed Benyettou who starred for Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab last season.
Reigning champions Al Ain start their title defence at 17:50 in Ras Al Khaima where the face an Emirates club who survived last season with a single goal after defeating Al Hamriya 1-0 on aggregate in the relegation play-off.
The Boss start life without talisman Omar Abdulrahman who departed to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, and coach Zoran Mamic is keen to prove there is more to his team than the 2016 Asian Player of the Year. The Croatian will be banking on the form of Hussein El Shahat and last season’s top goalscorer Marcus Berg to drive the team forward.
Runners-up Al Wahda started the season with a huge morale booster, having defeated arch rivals Al Ain in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup last week to lift the first trophy of the new season. They start their league campaign at their adopted home of Zayed Sports City against newcomers Ittihad Kalba at 20:30.
The Tigers, led by 2007 AFC Asian Cup winning coach Jorvan Viera, return to the Arabian Gulf League after one season away in the first division and are hoping to make their stay a longer one this time.
Matchweek 1 concludes with the ‘Match of the Week’ clash of Shabab Al Ahli and Al Jazira at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium at 20:30. The Dubai side appointed Chilean Jose Luis Sierra, formerly of Ittihad in Saudi Arabia and added new stars to their ranks in the shape of Ecuadorian forward Jaime Ayovi who arrives from the Chinese Super League and Argentinian playmaker Mauro Diaz from MLS side FC Dallas.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi, on the other side, replaced one Dutchman for another, appointing former Ajax coach Marcel Keizer to succeed his compatriot Henk ten Cate who left the club after two very successful seasons in which he delivered a historic league title in 2016-17 with a record number of points.