Abu Dhabi: The Etisalat Pro-League returns on Saturday night following a month’s break because of the Gulf Cup — and the UAE’s win in Bahrain has heightened excitement for the country’s football action.
The domestic competition will again take a break after this week to allow the national team to prepare in China from Monday for their game against Vietnam in Hanoi on February, the start of the qualifiers for the 2015 Asian Cup in Australia.
As such, the Professional League Committee (PLC) scheduled five matches on Saturday and only two on Sunday to allow the team’s international players one day off before gathering again on Monday. All the clubs with international players will compete on Saturday night, namely Al Ain, Al Jazira, Al Wahda, Al Ahli, Al Nasr, Bani Yas and Al Shabab.
Defending champions and league leaders Al Ain will face Ajman without the services of their top striker Asamoah Gyan, who is leading Ghana in the Africa Cup of Nations in South Africa. Ajman, meanwhile, will be deprived of the services of Iraqi striker Karrar Jasim because of injury.
Al Shabab will host Al Wahda in what promises to be a tough encounter, with the visitors having to do without pivotal player Srdan Andric because of a one-match suspension.
Second-place Al Jazira will host third-place Al Ahli in the match of the week, with both teams featuring a number of highly motivated international players who won the Gulf Cup for their country.
“I am happy and pleased with the success of Ahmad Khalil in the Gulf Cup. I am sure he will play a big part in our plans this season,” Quique Flores, the head coach of Al Ahli, said after Khalil finished as top scorer in the regional tournament despite the fact that he rarely scored for his club in the league this season.
The “ Zabeel Derby” between Al Wasl and Al Nasr will have its own traditional importance, and in the other match on Saturday night Kalba will host Bani Yas.
On Sunday, Al Dhafra will play at home against Dibba and Dubai will host Al Shaab.