football

Al Wasl, Al Ain look to consolidate positions

Mahdi Ali upbeat ahead of first match in charge of Shabab Al Ahli

19:05 December 6, 2017

Dubai: Leaders Al Wasl and Al Ain will be looking to consolidate their positions at the top of the standings as the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) turns the corner with 11th round action this weekend.

A one-goal difference separates the ‘Cheetahs’ from Al Ain as both clubs seek to keep up their unbeaten record this weekend. On Friday, while Al Ain will have to undertake the long trip to Al Dhafra, Al Wasl will host stuttering Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in the Dubai derby at 7.30 pm. A win for both would change very little, but a slip-up from either will see the other take possession of the top spot with the second half of the league still to play.

Now under the direction of former national team coach Mahdi Ali, Shabab Al Ahli will be the underdogs against the leaders. But Ali remained buoyant about his team’s chances with him at the helm in his first-ever domestic match with his former club. “As a coach this match is about three points. If we win we will not get more than three points. That aside, this is a very important game as we are playing the league leaders. For us, after six draws and if we want to keep our chances alive for challenging for the title, we need to go all out for a positive result,” Ali told Gulf News.

“We have to focus only on this game as it is a very short time for me to show this team a new direction. I can have the confidence in my players that they will fight for a positive result. And having seven or eight players from the UAE national team will also help this cause,” he added.

“If we do get a positive result then we can be keen and optimistic about our chances for the next 12 matches and mounting a challenge for the league title.”

Ali has a wealth of experience as coach, but most of it has been with the national team. He resigned from his post earlier this year after the UAE lost 0-2 to Australia in their failed attempt to qualify for the 2018 Fifa World Cup in Russia. Ali has also been in charge at domestic level with a stint at Al Ahli in 2009 followed by Bani Yas in 2011.

After 10 matches of the AGL, both Al Wasl and Al Ain have a near identical record of six wins and four draws and just the one-goal difference separating the two sides. Al Wahda are lurking around the corner with 20 points, while defending champions Al Jazira have started showing signs of resurrection as they continued their climb into fourth place with 16 points.

In other matches, Ajman will host 10th-placed Hatta and cellar-placed Emirates Club will travel for their match against sixth-placed Al Nasr on Thursday. In Friday’s early match, Dibba will host Sharjah to see which team takes over seventh position in the standings.