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Mahdi Ali and Odair Hellmann debuts shake up Arabian Gulf League for MW10

Fresh faces – one familiar and one new – herald restarts for two struggling Dubai giants in the 2020/21 Arabian Gulf League’s match-week 10.

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club welcome back Mahdi Ali and coveted ex-Fluminense tactician Odair Hellmann will be present for Al Wasl. Last weekend’s drab goalless draw against Al Dhafra dropped the former-mentioned 2019/20 pacesetters into seventh and proved terminal to rookie Spanish coach Gerard Zaragoza’s job prospects.

Respected former UAE boss Ali – guiding hand of the last decade’s cherished ‘Golden Generation’ – was announced as replacement on Monday, representing a third stint at the helm of a merged club he represented with distinction in his playing days. An immediate rise up the standings is required to justify the one-and-a-half-year contract awarded, beginning with Friday’s trip to a 12th-placed Fujairah who’ve lost four of their last five top-flight fixtures.

“I thank the club management for the confidence,” said the 55-year-old Ali, who attained a 42.1-per-cent win percentage during his prior stint from December 2017-May 2018. “We are waiting for the course of correction and the return of the team to its natural place – Fujairah will start the correction

“I follow all the league matches and have a complete idea about the team in the past period.”

Hellmann, 43, will also be in the dugout for the first time on Thursday when Wasl face a second-placed Al Jazira eager to scrap for a fifth-successive AGL triumph.

The 43-year-old was poached from the Rio de Janeiro-grandees earlier this month. He assumes control of a ninth-placed side who’d won three matches in a row under Emirati Salem Rabie, before last Thursday’s 95th-minute defeat to 2018/19 champions Sharjah.

“I’ve spoken to many Brazilian players and coaches,” said Hellmann, who was Brazil’s assistant manager when they won gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. “Al Wasl has very high quality players.

“With time, the players will understand my thoughts.”

Heavyweights in contrasting form clash on Friday when third-placed Al Nasr host out-of-sorts Al Ain.

Inspired by the summer additions of UAE centre forward Sebastian Tagliabue and Israel magician Dia Saba, the Blue Wave are in strong contention to end a 35-year wait to lift their fourth AGL. A record-extending 14th crown for Al Ain appears unlikely, however, after a 0-0 stalemate with lowly Ajman left them eight points off the pace in sixth and reignited talk about a winter squad revamp.

Leaders Sharjah’s unbeaten start will face a stern examination at fifth-placed Bani Yas, Ajman can aim to leap out the relegation zone against fellow strugglers Khor Fakkan and fourth-placed Ittihad Kalba must weather the suspension of star striker Peniel Mlapa versus a floundering Al Wahda who are winless in three AGL games. Mlapa was censored with a three-match ban and Dh50,000 fine for a collision with the referee in last week’s 2-1 victory against Khor Fakkan.

Bottom-placed Hatta must continue their pursuit of an opening three points this term at the 10th attempt, versus 10th-placed Al Dhafra.

MATCH-WEEK 10 FIXTURES

Thursday

18:00 Al Dhafra v Hatta

18:00 Bani Yas v Sharjah

21:00 Al Wasl v Al Jazira

Friday

18:00 Ittihad Kalba v Al Wahda

18:00 Fujairah v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club

21:00 Al Nasr v Al Ain

21:00 Ajman v Khor Fakkan

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