Al Ahli’s coach Cosmin Olaroiu and captain Grafite at the Press conference in Dubai on Sunday. — KT photo by Mukesh Kamal
Dubai — Champions Al Ahli open their title defence campaign away from home against Sharjah in the highlight of the inaugural round of the Arabian Gulf League season 2014-2015 on Tuesday night.
The competition kicks start with four encounters on Monday featuring promoted Fujairah against Emirates and Al Wasl versus Al Dhafra in the evening clashes. Bani Yas host Al Nasr and Ajman entertain Al Jazira in the late night matches on the opening day.
On Tuesday, Al Wahda take on Kalba while Al Shabab’s home clash against Al Ain has been postponed due to Al Ain’s AFC Champions League commitments.
However, the Red Knights have had an exceptional season last year, having claimed their sixth national league’s crown four weeks before the end of the competition and bagged three out of the four major titles before being denied a complete sweep in a head-to-head fight against country’s rivals Al Ain in the final of the President Cup.
The only main change in last year’s squad was represented in the replacement of the Portuguese Hugo Viana with Romanian midfielder Radoi and concluding successful deals to transfer Al Nasr and Bani Yas internationals Habib Fardan and Nawaf Mubarak.
“The expectations are very high,” said Al Ahli’s Romanian coach Cosmin Olaroiu in a pre-match news conference at Al Ahli Club on Sunday.
“We are looking forward for a positive start to repeat last year’s achievement and more. We didn’t carryout big changes in the squad. I hope Radoi will make a difference as a foreign player.
“Nawaf Mubarak and Habib Fardan are the right choice from the national players and they will be of great help for the team. Fardan is a quality midfielder while Nawaf Mubarak is a skilful and talented player who scores goals from free kicks and long range shots. He’s a kind of player whom I like,” he said. But, Olaroiu denied to have stood behind the decision of the player to skip the current Asian Games with the Olympic team.
“The needs of the national teams come at the top of our priorities and I cannot stop any player from answering a call to join the national teams. I have no idea about the reason behind the player’s decision.
“But, I needed Nawaf to be with the players who have returned from the training camp of the senior national team to take on strong opponents like Sharjah in the opener of the competition,” he said. “We need to win and I will take it a step by step. Sharjah is a formidable side and we have had hard times with them last season. They have made major changes and they must be now stronger,” he added.
“I have won the league in the first season with the club and I need to continue winning because without that nobody will be motivated to keep a coach,” he said.
“The postponing of the Super Cup forced us to play a friendly to keep the players warm for the season,” he noted.
However, the same opinion was echoed by the team’s skipper Grafeti who looked confident that they are going to make for the second straight time. “We respect Sharjah and we understand we will be playing them at home where there’s nothing easy.”
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