After a long period of absence, the 2020-2021 season of the Arabian Gulf Cup returns, as the first leg of the 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 opening day will see Ittihad Kalba host Al Jazira, Hatta take on Bani Yas and Fujairah face Ajman.
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 prepared well for the season and expressed his delight with the return of football, saying that the new season’s postponement gave the team more time to prepare. 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.”
Kalba will be miss the services of Sultan Al-Zaabi for suspension and Wanderson and Ahmed Lotfi for injury.
On the other hand, Al Jazira have two foreign players only within their ranks; South African Thulani Serero and Serbian Miloš Kosanović and haven’t signed any new players during the transfer window. The Pride of Abu Dhabi 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 that increasing the number of substitutions to five will give the team more opportunities to improve their performance. "I’m expecting that the team will put in better performances when compared to the previous season,” he added.
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, "Hatta made a lot of changes during the transfer window, so it’s hard to predict the team’s performance. 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. The Oranges failed to qualify from last season’s group stage, while Fujairah reached the quarter final before losing to Al Nasr.
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 all teams 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 as Shabab Al Ahli face Al Dhafra, Al Ain host Khorfakkan, and Al Wasl travel to face Al Wahda.