Dubai: Sharjah FC will use a four-team friendly competition before launching their title defence of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) starting in the first half of September.
Other teams in fray are fellow AGL teams like Ittihad Kalba, Ajman Club and Khor Fakkan for the friendly competition between August 18-27.
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Sharjah have already begun their preparations for the new season after the UAE Football Association (UAE FA) had scrapped all football activity for the remainder of the season following the suspension of the AGL earlier due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Winning their sixth league title had been a major achievement for the young team under 42-year-old former midfielder and now coach Abdul Aziz Al Anbari last season. However, after cancelling all football activity, the UAE FA ordered that Sharjah would continue as champions for another year in order to fulfill recommendations laid down by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC).
The absence of influential playmaker and goalscorer Igor Coronado had been a huge impediment to Sharjah as they sought a defence of their league title. Known as ‘The King’ among the local football faithful, Sharjah was in fifth place with 35 points – a full eight points away from leaders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai – when the AGL was cancelled off earlier this month.
Since then, Coronado has returned to full fitness and the club management has roped in some exciting overseas and local talent with fresh signings. One of the vital additions to Al Anbari’s line-up is Abdoulaye Traore, the left winger who has joined from Serie A side Hellas Verona along with the return of Cape Verde and Portugal centre forward Ricadro Gomes following the completion of his loan move at Ittihad Kalba.
Brazilian Caio Lucas Fernandes, a one-time right midfielder or second striker at Al Ain, still has a contract with Sharjah FC till June next year, while midfielder Otabek Shukurov also joined the team training following his arrival from Uzbekistan last week.
“The pre-season has started for us in right earnest and we are hoping to have the entire squad fit and ready to go in time for the new season. Things have been unusual this year with the pandemic interrupting the last season, but we have to put things behind us and look confidently forward while believing we can be the best team,” a club official told Gulf News.
“At our level, we have done all we can to assemble the right sort of players as requested by the coach. Now it is left up to them all to work hard towards achieving success. We are confident we can be genuine challengers to the league next season as well,” he contended.
The new season will commence with the Arabian Gulf Cup on September 3, while the AGL will get under way from September 9. In the Arabian Gulf Cup, Sharjah has received a straight bye into the quarter finals where they will meet the winners of the group match played between Al Wasl and Al Wahda. They will commence their league campaign with their opener against Fujairah.
The defending AGL champions will have to immediately refocus on the Asian stage as they will have to leave for Qatar to participate in the AFC Champions League matches starting in Doha from September 14. Sharjah FC compete in Group C of the AFC Champions League alongside Al Duhail (Qatar), Al Taawon (Saudi Arabia) and Persepolis (Iran).