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UAE President's Cup: Shabab Al Ahli look to defend title against Al Nasr

The much-awaited return of spectators to UAE stadiums will coincide with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai looking to defend their UAE President’s Cup title against Dubai arch-rivals Al Nasr.

The match kicks off at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain at 19.35pm, with Mahdi Ali’s men clearly the favourites to win a fourth straight clash against their city rivals. It’s been very close between the two with Shabab edging Al Nasr 3-2 in the away leg of their Arabian Gulf League encounter on May 11, after they had scraped a 1-0 home win earlier in the season. Sandwiched between those two wins, Shabab won the Arabian Gulf Cup via penalty shoot-out that finished 5-4 in their favour in sudden death after a goalless draw.

While Shabab, who finished third in the recently concluded AGL and snapped up the AFC Asian Champions League qualifier spot along with that, will focus on keeping it simple. Mahdi might be looking for a cup double, but despite his side’s better record against their city rivals he has not allowed his players to get ahead of themselves.

He said: “I do not care about the previous numbers and results, the most important thing for me is for the team to win the cup. They are a good team and must be respected, and I always say, especially in the final matches: ‘It is not important with whom you play, but what is important is that you are ready for the match’.

“I have great confidence in my players, and their presence has always been at a higher level in finals. I would be very happy if we achieved victory because we have made a lot of sacrifices this season and played many local and AFC Champions League matches, and I hope that we will succeed in ending what has been a distinguished season, by winning the precious cup.”

Al Nasr have won the title four times, with their latest success in 2014-15 achieved at the expense of Al Ahli, one of the clubs that merged to form Shabab Al Ahli Dubai. Then too it was decided on penalties after finishing 1-1 at the final whistle.

Ramon Diaz took over as coach at Al Nasr in February and has had little time to work his magic, but in the short period the Argentine has been around, he has brought about a sort of revival, with Al Nasr making the finals of the aforementioned Arabian Gulf Cup and climbing up to finish fifth in the AGL. In the President’s Cup arena too Al Nasr managed to turn around their fortunes under the former River Plate manager.

Revenge might be the key word for the Blue Brigade, but an approach filled with vengeance might not be the right way to channelise Al Nasr’s latent but potent energy as they seek to snatch a share of the local bragging rights.

Al Nasr played a little under a third of their Arabian Gulf Cup final against Shabab Al Ahli a man down following the 35th-minute sending off of defender Glauber Lima. And the Brazilian’s defensive colleague, wing-back Mahmoud Khamis believes there was very little to separate the quality of the two sides.

“Our performance in that match was good, but the early dismissal affected us, however we were cohesive and played well, until we reached the penalty shoot-out, which Shabab Al Ahli won,” Khamis said.

“You have to challenge in competitions, but it ends after the match, because the players of both teams are friends outside the stadium.

“We have strong attack-minded players in the squad; players that can understand and implement the coach’s strategy well and we will be looking to do that against Al Ahli.”