Dubai: Al Ahli assistant coach Fabio Cannavaro has told his players to delay their Arabian Gulf League (AGL) title-winning celebrations until after next Sunday’s President’s Cup final against Al Ain.
The Red Knights finally got their hands on the league trophy after an academic end-of-season 5-1 win at home to Al Dhafra on Sunday — despite having already wrapped up the title last month with three games to spare.
While victory in the last game of the season wasn’t a mathematical requirement, it did allow Cosmin Olaroiu’s side to sign off in style. Al Ahli broke the UAE league’s record points haul with 64 points in front of loyal home supporters who have waited five years to add their sixth league title.
The trophy now sits beside this season’s Super Cup and League Cup honours, capping a historic domestic treble. But Cannavaro has his eyes set on an unprecedented quadruple, something that will only be confirmed with President’s Cup victory over Al Ain in Abu Dhabi this Sunday.
“It’s normal to celebrate, but the day after tomorrow we must start to think about Al Ain,” said Italy’s 2006 World Cup winning captain.
“There is still one week to go until the President’s Cup final and we need to stay focused. This is the last step and we know it will be very difficult. We know the value of Al Ain, they are a strong team with good players. We want to win to make history, but it will be tough.”
Al Ahli have twice beaten Al Ain in league meetings this season and beat them in the final of the Super Cup at the start of the campaign. But this dominance has only exacerbated a rift between the two clubs, which started when Al Ahli poached Olaroiu from Al Ain last summer. Cannavaro now warns that Al Ain will be out for revenge and that past form doesn’t count.
“The final is the final, we start the game with equal opportunity and it doesn’t matter what’s happened before,” he said. “We have five days to prepare for this game and the only problem for us now is mental because we have very intelligent players.”
Cannavaro added that the reason for the Al Ahli’s success so far this season was due to their ability to focus on the present, without being carried away by past results or upcoming fixtures. Therefore, he stressed that the manner in which they thrashed Al Dhafra with ease on Sunday was of little relevance.
Humaid Abbas opened for Al Ahli inside the first minute before Ahmad Khalil and Hugo Viana made it three before the interval. Kamel Chafni pulled one back after half-time but Khalil added his second from the spot and Luis Jimenez struck late to complete Al Dhafra’s humiliation.