Dubai: Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu is expecting a strong challenge to his side’s Arabian Gulf League title defence, which starts at home to Emirates Club from 5.30pm on Saturday.
“Most clubs have made big changes and there will certainly be greater challenges than last season,” he said.
“The difference is we will have stronger opponents and I expect a more difficult season in light of their additions.”
The Red Knights league opener with Emirates comes just days after their 2-1 Super Cup win over President’s Cup champions Al Jazira in Cairo midweek.
“After the Super Cup the league has come quickly and we haven’t had long to prepare, but the victory gives our team motivation and we will always work to give our best in difficult situations. We strive to win in order to get our title defence off to a good start.”
Of Emirates Club, who lost 5-1 away to Sharjah in their Arabian Gulf Cup group opener last week, he added: “They are not an easy team even if they lost their recent cup game. There were some mistakes by their keeper so that result didn’t reflect the performance.
“For us this game will be a test of concentration. We have to maintain humility and deal with the game seriously because it’s being played at 5.30pm.
“I would have preferred a later time due to the heat but this is the situation and we’ll to adapt to the task. It’s not easy but we’ll do our best.”
Over the coming weeks Al Ahli will also be without key players due to national team commitments as the UAE takes part in 2018 World Cup qualifiers.
“Every coach wants their best players with them but we cannot control the situation, we will go through a difficult period but we will overcome it.
“The priority is to win the next game and take it step by step. Everybody expects Al Ahli to win every game because this is what they’ve become accustomed to. We also aspire to build on the past and hope to keep winning under all circumstances.”
Elsewhere on Saturday Al Jazira host Al Wasl from 8.15pm.
“We played very well in the Super Cup against Al Ahli midweek but didn’t get the result we deserved,” said Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate. “Now we will hope to make up for that against Al Wasl.
“The opening game is one of the most important games of the season because it gives the team confidence going forward.
“Al Wasl are a strong side with some of the best attacking foreigners in the league and we will play a style of football best suited to confronting that.”