Dubai: The four semi-final spots will be confirmed this weekend with competition for the top two spots in both groups up for grabs in the final round of matches.
There is a three-way battle between Al Ain, Al Jazira and Al Nasr in Group A with all three tied on seven points apiece. In Group B, Al Wasl and Dibba are at the top with seven points each, while Shabab Al Ahli Dubai are in third with six points.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai coach Mahdi Ali was keen on using the match to try out his bench strength in an attempt to get his side back to winning ways since taking over from Cosmin Olaroiu.
The Al Ghusais club have just one win and three draws in the Arabian Gulf Cup so far, and full points away against Dibba on Friday will ensure they sneak through into the last-four stage.
In the Arabian Gulf League (AGL), they go into the second phase of the competition with three wins, six draws and two losses as they continue to struggle in sixth place with 15 points — 10 adrift of league leaders Al Wasl.
However, coach Ali does not want to look too much into this.
“Our challenge is to improve the team at all levels. We are on the right path following last week’s game [beat Emirates 3-0]. This is my third week with the team and I can see the improvement shown by the team. I see the acceptance of the players during the training and during matches. I hope we can be at the same level and in the same manner for the remainder of the season,” Ali said.
With three players — Esmail Al Hammadi, Khamis Esmail and Mohammad Marzouq — called into the UAE national team for the Gulf Cup starting in Kuwait on Friday, Ali sees a perfect opportunity to utilise his bench strength. “We have to look at the future as well. We need to know the level of these players who are on the bench,” the coach said.
The former national coach hope the Professional League Committee (PLC) would consider increasing the number of players on the bench to fit international standards. “Fifa and the AFC stipulates a total of 23 players, but in the UAE we can have just seven including the second goalkeeper,” Ali said.
“We can only hope the PLC re-considers this aspect as it will be better for all teams and younger players will get an opportunity to prove themselves on the ground,” he added.
Ajman v Al Jazira, 4.50pm
Hatta v Al Dhafra, 4.50pm
Al Nasr v Al Ain, 7.30pm
Dibba v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, 4.45pm
Emirates v Al Wahda, 4.45pm
Al Wasl v Sharjah, 7.30pm