Dubai: All eyes will be on Shabab Al Ahli Dubai as they brace for a traditionally accepted tough encounter against hosts Khor Fakkan in the quarter-finals of the Arabian Gulf Cup this weekend.
Each time the two have met, the Northern Emirates’ club have ensured life has not been all that easy for their opponents from Al Ghusais.
The two have already played once in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) and Khor Fakkan ensured at least a point following a 2-2 draw at home in the first half of November last year.
To make matters worse, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai — runners-up in the AGL last season — have not exactly hit the ground running in all competitions this season as they lie in eighth place in the league after 12 rounds.
More concerning for incoming coach Mehdi Ali has been a string of poor results that have followed after a delayed start to the football season this year. And a 2-2 draw against cross-city rivals Al Wasl during last week’s AGL action has not helped either.
“The goal is to ensure we return with at least a win,” Mehdi Ali told media during the pre-match conference.
“As professionals, we are all aware of our duties and we need to be ready to face any challenge that comes our way. Our players are focused and I am confident in their abilities as a team,” he added.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai have the best record in this competition and their fourth and last triumph in the Arabian Gulf Cup came in 2019. They advanced to this season’s quarter-final by defeating hosts Al Dhafra 3-0 in the second leg after the two teams had squared off for a 1-1 draw in their first leg in Dubai.
Khor Fakkan won’t be pushovers on Thursday. The club from the northern emirate booked their quarter-final spot for the first time in their history by knocking out former champions Al Ain in the biggest surprise of the competition following a 4-2 aggregate result.
Also in action on Thursday will be defending champions Sharjah as they host Fujairah at the Al Maktoum Stadium. Last season too, the two clubs had met at the same stage of the competition with the men in blue riding on a first half strike from Habib Al Fardan to advance to the last four.
This season the two have already met in the AGL and Al Nasr had to wait anxiously till the last for a hard-fought 3-2 win over Fujairah in Round Nine.
Friday’s two quarter-finals will see Bani Yas host Kalba in the early match, while Al Wasl will travel to Sharjah for an 8pm kick-off.
As per the new format of the Arabian Gulf Cup, Al Nasr start their campaign directly from the quarter-final by the virtue of being the title holders, while Fujairah booked their quarter-final spot following their 3-1 aggregate win over Ajman.
The return rounds of the quarter-finals will be played on January 25 and 26.
Khor Fakkan v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, 5pm
Al Nasr v Fujairah, 8pm
Bani Yas v Kalba, 5pm
Sharjah v Al Wasl, 8pm