Diego Maradona challenge is a 'big, big pleasure' for Zoran Mamic when his Al Ain battle Fujairah on Thursday in the President's Cup
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club Al Aweer Stadium is set for an intriguing clash on Thursday when the Arabian Gulf League’s champions-elect and UAE’s most-decorated club face promotion hopefuls from First Division League, who possess one of football’s grandees in their dugout.
The ineffable World Cup 1986 winner has guided the Wolves to an undefeated debut campaign, but 10 draws – the latest being Friday’s 2-2 stalemate with Masfut – sees them clinging on to an automatic spot in second.
Mamic lauded his Argentinian opponent’s legendary achievements on the pitch, but insists he’ll be keeping focused on the task at hand.
“It’s a pleasure to meet him and, of course, he’s one of the best players of all time in the world,” said the ex-Croatia international. “It’s a big, big pleasure for me.
“But I have my job, he has his job and I will try to do mine better.”
Another challenge for Mamic is being able to select only two of his usual four foreign players, to match Fujairah’s limited quota. Sweden No9 Marcus Berg is the most likely to be rested ahead of Monday’s 2018 AFC Champions League decider in Group D at Qatar’s Al Rayyan.
In the opposite corner, Maradona – who last coached Al Wasl in 2011/12 – lavished praise on this week’s favourites.
He said: “The quarter-final against Al Ain is a valuable gift and a good test for my own team’s abilities.
“This because Al Ain are at the forefront of the Emirati clubs and has a reputation at both a local and Asian level.”
SHABAB AL AHLI DUBAI CLUB V SHARJAH
Boss Mahdi Ali has challenged his Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club squad to maintain a chance of being able to “write their names into the history of the club” when they battle Sharjah in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.
The competition provides the sole remaining possibility of salvaging silverware from a trying inaugural campaign. This is also the situation for Thursday’s opposition at Ajman’s Rashid bin Saeed Stadium, who also consumed Al Shaab last May.
“We hope to win the title,” said ex-UAE coach Ali. “If they do this, they will write their names into the history of the club.”
The King have been resurgent since club stalwart Abdulaziz Al Anbari was finally given a permanent shot at leading them after Portugal’s Jose Peseiro was sacked in October.
The Emirati has guided a side threatened with relegation upon arrival to just one spot and two points behind fifth-place Shabab Al Ahli in the Arabian Gulf League.