The first leg of the 2020-2021 Arabian Gulf Cup playoff round kicks off on Thursday under the slogan “We commit until we succeed” in a call to all football fans to continue adhering to precautionary measures in order to limit the spread of Covid-19.
The Arabian Gulf Cup returns with a new format that completely scraps the group stage and replace it with a two-legged knock-out system (home and away basis). Under the new format, the reigning champions of the Arabian Gulf League and the Arabian Gulf Cup will qualify directly to the quarter-final, without taking part in the qualifying round, which means that Sharjah and Al Nasr have already booked their quarter-final tickets.
The opening day will see Ittihad Kalba host Al Jazira, Hatta take on Bani Yas and Fujairah face Ajman. The action resumes on Friday as Shabab Al Ahli face Al Dhafra, Al Ain host Khorfakkan, and Al Wasl travel to face Al Wahda.
Ittihad Kalba will kick-off the action when they host Al Jazira at 6:30 pm on Thursday. The Tigers coach Jorge da Silva said that his team had prepared well for the season. He added: "The start of the season will not be easy. We will face Al Jazira in the cup and then Shabab Al Ahli in the league. This, however, does not scare us, but rather encourages us to shine.”
Al Jazira coach Marcel Keizer said that the Ittihad Kalba clash will test the team's readiness for the league. He added: "We start the current season with the same players of the previous season, with the exception of Mourad Batna and Keno. In general, there is a positive atmosphere in the dressing room, and we’re focusing on earning a win that will give us advantage ahead of the return match."
Hatta will face Bani Yas at Hamdan bin Rashid Stadium at the same time. Hatta coach Christos Kontis said he was happy with the players’ performances in the pre-season, despite playing a limited number of friendly matches. He added, "We will put in better performances when compared to the previous season."
On the other hand, guests Bani Yas hired coach Daniel Isăilă to take over the team. Isăilă said that the return to football after a long hiatus will not be easy, but stressed that the team will do their best to qualify for the next stage of the competition. He added, "we are not 100 per cent ready. I am not looking to give excuses, but rather trying to find solutions.”
The final match of the day will see Fujairah host Ajman at 9 pm. Fujairah coach Goran Tufegdžić said that the new format of the Arabian Gulf Cup made the competition more difficult, as every team is required to achieve positive results in all its clashes, in fear of an early exit. He added, "I studied Ajman well. They are a strong and organized team, but we are determined to win."
On the other hand, Ajman coach Ayman Al Ramadi said that the postponement of the Arabian Gulf Cup gave his team an opportunity to prepare well for the new season. He added, "I did not watch Fujairah’s friendly matches, but we will do our best in the game.”
The action resumes on Friday when competition's runners-up Shabab Al Ahli host the Al Dhafra at Rashid Stadium at 6:30pm. The home side will be looking to achieve a positive result after their recent exit from the quarter-final of the AFC Champions League at the hands of Saudi side Al Ahli on penalties after the game ended in a 1-1 draw.
On the other side, Al Dhafra agreed to the departure of coach Vuk Rašović, who joined Al Wahda, and signed instead Serbian coach Aleksandar Veselinović, who will guide the team after the Shabab Al Ahli clash, which will be led by interim coach Mohammed Quaid.
At the same time, Al Ain will face Khorfakkan at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium. The Boss coach Pedro Emanuel will be without forward Kodjo Laba who was called up by Togo national team and Jamal Maroof will be out with injury. The match will represent a special challenge for new sining Fahad Hadeed, who will be facing his former team.
On the other hand, Khorfakkan signed a new coach as Brazilian coach Caio Zanardi, who has a long experience in Emirati football, took over at the team, and will be looking to achieve positive results with his new team in the new season.
The final match of the week will see Al Wahda and Al Wasl clash at Al Nahyan Stadium at 9pm. Al Wahda appointed former Al Dhafra coach Vuk Rašović, as the team’s new head coach.
They’ll also start a new era after the departure of their historic goalscorer Sebastian Tagliabúe, who moved to Al Nasr. Meanwhile, the club signed Henrique Luvannor, the former Shabab Al Ahli forward in an attempt to boost their frontline.
On the other hand, Al Wasl managed to keep forward Fabio de Lima within their ranks and renewed confidence in coach Laurențiu Reghecampf.
The return leg of the Arabian Gulf Cup qualifying round will be held on November 12 and 13.