Abu Dhabi: Al Ain will be starting their campaign in the Arabian Gulf Cup against Hatta at the Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium on Monday sans eight of their key players including ace midfielder Omar Abdul Rahman. Action starts at 7.25pm.
With the 2018 Russia World Cup qualifiers’ must-win contest against Iraq lurking on Tuesday, most of Al Ain players are on national duty. Al Ain, who last won the Arabian Gulf Cup in 2008-2009 season beating Al Wahda, will be relying on their bench strength to get them through to a solid start in the season opener.
“We may be missing eight internationals but have big confidence in all the players who will defend the logo against Hatta. We trust in the ability of our young players to show their best and compensate for the absence of internationals and confirm to everyone that they can deliver and are up for the challenge,” said Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic, adding that he is confident that his young players would rise up to the challenge and will make their presence felt.
“We hope to get three points to get the new season off to a winning start. This is a good opportunity for the young players who are the future of the club to get a first team experience,” added Mamic, whose team will also not have the luxury of playing at their preferred home turf Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium as the venue is undergoing a facelift for the Club World Cup to be held later this year.
“We have to accept the current situation and there are some facilities being upgraded at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium. However, I expect good attendance and crowd support for the young Al Ain players and that should lift our morale and help us secure a win,” said Mamic.
Al Ain’s Japanese recruit Shoutani Tsukasa was also upbeat about the team doing well despite the absence of their frontline players.
“Playing the first domestic match is an important challenge for me and the team in the absence of eight key players. We are very confident of our young players who will be chosen by the coach to replace the international players. The task is not easy but we are very much upbeat for the clash,” said Tsukasa.
Hatta’s coach Gjoko Hadvievski was of the view that being pitted against teams like Al Ain straight away make the task more challenging.
“Although Hatta’s readiness for the new season is better than the previous year, both in preparation and strength of the team, the fact is we are playing two strong teams at the start of the season in both the Cup and the league, which makes it difficult,” said Hadvievski, adding that his team looks at the Al Ain and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai encounter later in the league positively.
“These matches will represent a real measure of the readiness of Hatta players to compete in the new season. We not only want to ensure survival but also want to progress in the rankings in competition,” asserted Hadvievski.