AGL's 11th gets cracking with Oud Metha derby
Al Wahda's Egyptian defender Abdullah El Refaey shoots during a training session at the Al Nahyan Stadium. - Twitter
Dubai - Al Nasr host rivals Al Wasl while Sharjah embark on title defence against Khor Fakkan
Another season of the UAE top flight rumbles on, the 11th of the professional era, this weekend, with some tricky openers for the heavyweights.
And it keeping with the weather, a red-hot fixture awaits on Friday night with Al Nasr and Al Wasl renewing their storied rivalry.
A little over five kilometres separate the two clubs in Oud Metha in old Dubai, with its old-world charm. And their contest harks back to the noughties, right to their face-offs in the UAE First Division, with their geographical location adding spice to the tussle.
And the latest instalment between the two will roll out with both sets of faithful fans coming through the turnstiles to make the Al Maktoum Stadium a cauldron.
Last season was a mediocre one by their standards with Al Nasr doing just a tad better than Al Wasl, finishing one spot ahead of them in eighth.
The two will not only be eager to win Oud Metha bragging rights but also kick-off the campaign on a positive note.
And while that is still a 24-hour wait, the opening week kicks off with Sharjah, freshly bathed in Arabian Gulf Super Cup glory, embarking on their title defence.
'The King' had waited 23 years to win the League and Abdulaziz Al Anbari, their coach and erstwhile player, hopes the northern Emirate club don't have to wait long for the next one.
Firstly though, Al Anbari hopes that his players have got past the Super Cup hangover. "I hope that we will succeed quickly to overcome the joy of winning the Arabian Gulf Super Cup," said Al Anbari.
"The first game is the most important match for us in the coming period and the championship is very important for us and we hope to succeed in achieving a positive result," he added.
He knows better than anyone that they now have a target on their back but was confident of a repeat.
"Being the champion of the competition increases the pressure on us. But the club management, the coaching and staff and the players have a clear goal this season and we hope to maintain our intensity through the season," he said.
Sharjah went unbeaten over 23 matches last season en route to laying their hands on the League shield since the 1995-96 season.
Meanwhile, Sharjah midfielder Ryan Mendes too agreed that other teams will be keen to knock them off their pedestal.
"The pressure is always on us and I think that after winning the League and the Super Cup, it will increase," said Mendes.
"All the teams now look at us as strong competitors striving to win it. We are aware of this well and the coach has reminded us that what is important is that we have to work together so that we succeed together," added the 29-year-old Cape Verde playmaker.
Al Jazira vs Al Dhafra, Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, 6.45 p.m
Hatta vs Shabab Al Ahli, Hamdan bin Rashid Stadium, 6.45 p.m
Sharjah vs Khor Fakkan, Sharjah Stadium, 9.15 p.m
Bani Yas vs Ajman, Bani Yas Stadium, 9.15 p.m
Al Ain vs Ittihad Kalba, Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, 6.45 p.m
Fujairah vs Al Wahda, Fujairah Stadium, 6.45 p.m
Al Nasr vs Al Wasl, Al Maktoum Stadium, 9.15 p.m
ROLL OF HONOUR:Al Ain 13
Shabab Al Ahli 7
Al Wasl 7
Al Wahda 4
Al Shabab 3
Al Nasr 3
Al Jazira 2
LAST YEAR'S TOP SCORERS:Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda) 26
Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira) 21
Pedro Conde (Bani Yas) 18
Welliton Soares (Sharjah) 18
Alvari Negredo (Al Nasr) 17