Dubai: A major part of the attention will be on neighbours Al Jazira and Bani Yas as the two lock horns in a bid to to unsettle leaders Sharjah heading into this weekend’s Round 17 of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL).
Al Jazira finally caught up with leaders Sharjah after the defending champions succumbed to only their second defeat of the season while going down 2-1 at home against Al Ain, last week. Sharjah and Al Jazira are now tied on 36 points, and separated only on goal difference, while Bani Yas are in third place with 32 points followed by Al Ain and Al Nasr with 27 points each.
Al Jazira have been on a roll recently, thumping in 11 goals and conceding just one in their last two encounters alone. The Pride of Abu Dhabi thrashed neighbours Al Dhafra 5-1 and then thumped Kalba 6-0.
Bani Yas have been slowly building up with 2-1 wins against Khor Fakkan and Fujairah in their last two matches, while Al Ain have joined in with their confidence-boosting win against The King.
After holding the edge through much of the season, Sharjah coach Abdul Aziz Al Anbari now sees that his team has got their work cut out for them as they aim for a successful defence of their crown this season. “The desire is always to play a good brand of football. But that doesn’t mean that the team can win. We have been focused in our preparations for this match against Al Dhafra, and it will be our goal to return with all three points,” Al Anbari told media in the prematch conference, late on Tuesday.
The Sharjah coach brushed aside the sudden dip in form after his team headed into the second leg of fixtures. Sharjah drew at home against Al Wahda and then lost to former 13-time champions Al Ain last week to pick up just that one point from a possible six.
“There is nothing wrong with the approach and mentality of the team,” Al Anbari clarified.
“The players are still confident of what they can do to take this battle for the title till the end. All of them remain hungry for another league title, and we all believe that this goal can be achieved as one team. We did well to pass the first leg as leaders, but then we have to also remember that the league competition is a long one and we need to be ready for any challenges that come our way in the future as well,” he added.
“We’ve had some players who have been nursing injuries, and once they return into the squad things will be better for the team. Till then we know we can still continue to be among the favourites,” Al Anbari insisted.
In other matches, Ajman will host Al Nasr as the Blues continue in their quest to be among the title challengers, while Shabab Al Ahli Dubai make the long trip to Hatta.
On Friday, Al Wahda will host Khor Fakkan and Al Wasl will host a resurgent Kalba in the early games, before Fujairah make the journey to play at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain in the late match.
Ajman v Al Nasr, 5.30pm
Al Dhafra v Sharjah, 5.30pm
Al Jazira v Bani Yas, 8.15pm
Hatta v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, 8.15pm
Al Wahda v Khor Fakkan, 5.30pm
Al Wasl v Kalba, 5.30pm
Al Ain v Fujairah, 8.15pm