Goalkeeper: Ahmad Mahmoud ‘Dida’ || Age: 26 | Number: 12
After Majed Nasser received a ban (for yet another time) in early 2015, Al-Ahli fans asked how much worse their season could get. A poor domestic season, a slow start to their Asian Champions League campaign and the imminent departure of Cosmin Olaroiu – or so everyone thought.
‘Dida’ came into the team, took Majed Nasser’s place and is now firmly #1 despite the latter’s return. His mature performances started against Al-Ain in the Round of 16 of the Asian Champions League back in May. Since then, he has never looked back. ‘Dida’ has been lauded by most of the Emirati fan base at the current time of writing, never mind the Al-Ahli fans themselves.
Right back: Abdulaziz Sanqour || Age: 26 | Number: 62
Sanqour’s position for the final is unknown, yet, but with Walid Abbas returning it seems that he will return to the right back position. His year has seen him largely slot in at left back in place of Walid Abbas who had either moved to centre back, or suffered an injury. Al-Ahli’s next left back in line is Ismaeel Al-Hammadi’s brother, Adil, who played for relegated Ajman on loan last season.
But Sanqour has been Lima’s best mate, to everyone’s surprise. Sanqour has created 3 goals for the prolific striker since the latter’s arrival. That is certainly no mean feat, with Sanqour’s creative skills helping his claim as one of the better attacking right backs in the region.
Centre back: Salmeen Khamis || Age: 24 | Number: 2
If you look at the league 2 years ago, Salmeen Khamis was relatively nobody. But he has risen above everyone in the last two years and can make his claim as the best centre back in the UAE – even ahead of the leading Mohanad Salem Al-Enezi, arguably.
A rock in defence but also growing tactically with Kwon Kyung Kwon by his side, Khamis also boasts a good pass. Body positioning aside, he has the right tools to lead Al-Ahli and the UAE over the next few years; providing he gets rid of his erratic behaviour.
It’s been hard to get past this guy whether your name is Asamoah Gyan, Omar Abdulrahman or Carlos Eduardo.
Centre back: Kwon Kyung Kwon || Age: 23 | Number: 21
A late addition over the January transfer window, Kwon Kyung Kwon is certainly an unheralded player: locally and internationally. A defensive midfielder by trade, Kwon has become a mainstay in defence since his arrival at Al-Ahli. And as he said exclusively to Ahdaaf after the semi-final, “I prefer to play in midfield but we have been working hard together and I will listen to whatever the manager says”, it’s clear that he’s taking the position with whatever he can give.
A beam of intelligence at the back and no stranger to the pressure now that he’s been with Al-Ahli since the beginning of the AFCCL campaign, he also bagged the coveted winner against Al-Hilal the last time out.
Left back: Walid Abbas || Age: 30 | Number: 5
Walid Abbas doesn’t stand out in this defence, but his reliability is needed across the back line. Originally a centre back, he’s moved to the left back position to accommodate Al-Ahli’s loss in that position and the UAE’s abundance in that area too. He may be prone to that rare defensive mistake – the weakest spot in a strong Al-Ahli defence? Don’t judge them on their individual ability, as Cosmin Olaroiu has built a unit.
Central midfielder: Majed Hassan || Age: 23 | Number: 88
Part of the reason that Kwon has moved to centre back is due to the rise of Majed Hassan and his partner, Habib Fardan (more on him later). Hassan boasts a thin frame, yet he’s no pushover. Fierce in the tackle, calm on the ball and willing to put himself on the line for the team.
This means that you may find him lingering on the defensive line due to others who move out of it. For example, Sanqour may push up but Hassan drops in and this has helped nullify the likes of Salem Al-Dossary and Vahid Amiri. However he has a tendency to be too rash in the tackle and Al-Hilal may have just received a penalty on another day after Majed Hassan made a couple of silly mistakes in the box.
Central midfielder: Habib Fardan || Age: 25 | Number: 4
The most expensive Emirati footballer in the world – in terms of transfer fees – arrived at Al-Ahli in summer 2014 for a huge 40m AED (£6.5m at the time) fee. A youth product of Dubai-based Al-Wasl, before moving onto fierce rivals Al-Nasr, Habib Fardan was in demand during the summer of 2014. But Fardan’s love for Dubai helped him pick Al-Ahli over Al-Jazira at the time.
After a disastrous start to his Al-Ahli career, Habib Fardan has never looked back. He’s put in great performances, whether helping his teammate Majed Hassan steady the ship in the centre or provide the attacking flair needed. After all, Al-Ahli did just make the Round of 16 by the skin of their teeth… and it happened after link up play between none other than Habib Fardan and Everton Ribeiro.
His role will all depend on how Cosmin employs the team against Guangzhou. A more attacking formation, or will Fardan resort to sitting back for most of the game?
Right-winger: Everton Ribeiro || Age: 26 | Number: 8
Arguably the best player in the team in terms of talent, Everton Ribeiro is a creative hub and one of the best players in the region. A Brazilian International often, Ribeiro provides the trickery found in a general attacking midfielder. However his versatility allows him to excel on the wings too, with crossing and set piece taking also some of his better traits.
Moreover, the way he links up with Lima and Sanqour on the right flank (or on the left too) is essentially a key for the Red Knights. Ribeiro is also not afraid to chip in with goals. At the current time of writing, he has 4 goals and 4 assists in 6 league appearances.
Left-winger: Ismaeel Al-Hammadi || Age: 27 | Number: 7
Ismaeel Al-Hammadi has been a general right-winger, with his strong right foot, on the right side of the pitch for the last few years. You immediately get the gist that he is one-dimensional and a typical winger with pace as his best trait. However, Cosmin Olaroiu has deployed him at left wing and in attacking midfield to help him work on different variations of play, such as using his weaker foot, defending on different sides of the pitch and cutting inside rather than hugging the touchline.
Surprisingly, his performances have still been on relatively the same level if not better. In two games, Al-Hammadi has scored more league goals (4) than he did in the whole of the 2014-15 season (3).
Striker: Rodrigo Lima || Age: 32 | Number: 9
What a signing he has been, without a shadow of a doubt. 14 goals in 12 games at the current time of writing, at least one goal every game (not just on average, but he has literally scored in every single game since his arrival).
Lima hasn’t just brought goals to the Rashid Stadium, but his hold up play, pressing and good body frame has helped Al-Ahli immensely since the departure of injury-ridden Grafite. His ability to pop out from nowhere, command with the ball and score is no doubt a trait that Guangzhou need to be aware of. Furthermore, his movement is key to helping another key Al-Ahli attacker to grab his chance of goalscoring…
Striker: Ahmad Khalil || Age: 24 | Number: 11
Ahmad Khalil. “He’s either on or he’s off”, says Ali Khaled of the National. That statement is one we agree with. Khalil can either help Al-Ahli from out of nowhere (see 2 goals vs. Tractor Sazi to help Al-Ahli to the Round of 16, see 2 goals vs. UAE Champions Al-Ain to help Al-Ahli into quarter finals) or he can be the worst player on the pitch.
During the devastating 2014-15 season, Khalil was actually wanted out by a portion of fans. It’s rare to see a local player being wanted out, especially Khalil whose family has a legacy at Al-Ahli (his elder brothers, Faisal and Fouad).
Lima may see Al-Ahli grab a goal no matter the circumstance, but will Khalil provide the Lewandowski-like performance, or will he fall under the pressure?
Oussama Assaidi: Yes, for the majority of the AFCCL stages, Al-Ahli have been playing with only 3 foreigners. In West Asia – unless you’re Iran – it is considered a huge achievement. Assaidi brings pace and trickery to the field but also a significant lack of end product.
Abdulaziz Haikal: Energetic full back who can work on either end, but prone to mistakes and weak 1v1.
Humaid Abbas: A no-nonsense defensive midfielder that helps Al-Ahli keep structure by dropping into the pivot of the 4-3-3. He comes on later into games, to provide that needed security.