Muscat: The countdown is climaxing as the Oman Football Association (OFA) is all set to showcase their professional phase with a kick-start of the much-awaited Omantel Professional League (OPL) tomorrow.
Billed as the first major step towards 'professionalising' football in the Sultanate, the 14-club League, which will be held as per the criteria set down by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), will witness six top teams taking on each other tomorrow.
In the opening match tomorrow, three-time domestic league winners Al Arouba will take on Seeb at the Seeb Sports Stadium at 5:45pm, thus kicking-off the League. The Arouba-Seeb first-leg opener will be followed by a contest between eight-time domestic league winners Fanja and Al Shabab at the same venue at 8:15pm, while Sohar will take on two-time winners Al Nahda at the Buraimi Sports Complex at 7pm.
Speaking to the Times Sport yesterday, Sayyid Khalid Al Busaidi, the chairman of OFA, said it was his dream to introduce the OPL that is finally becoming a reality. "I have been working on this project for six years and am very happy to watch it is now finally becoming a reality," said Sayyid Khalid.
For now, the new season will see professionalism when it comes to the set-up, fixtures, match day, telecast and in many other areas. Excitingly, it will also see Omani teams taking part in the Asian Champions League next march.
According to Sayyid Khalid, with the first phase of 'professionalising' the League, his vision of transforming Oman Football into an industry is inching closer
"This was my statement since the time I was elected as the OFA chief in 2007. Today, a very important milestone in achieving that objective has been completed."
The OPL will be played out in five stadiums across Oman. The opening week will also see reigning domestic champions Al Suwaiq begin their title defence when they face Al Nasr in Salalah on Saturday. That game will be preceded by Al Ittihad facing Sur.
On Sunday, nine-time winner Dhofar will face Majees in Sohar, while Saham meets Al Musannah in the day's next game at the same venue to complete the first-week fixtures.
The first leg of the 2013-14 season will conclude on December 28. The OPL team headed by its chief executive officer Shabib Al Hosni has already completed visiting the 14 clubs as part of the preparations. The team claim to have educated the clubs regarding professional soccer.
Sayyid Khalid expressed confidence saying that by 'professionalising' the game completely, Oman football will reach high standards in Asia and the rest of the world very soon.
"Football is the number one passion for youth in this country and by transforming this game to a fully professional set-up along with the wealth of talented players we have, I am very confident about that," Sayyid Khalid noted.
The professional league, according to Sayyid Khalid, will fully benefit the country. "Taking football to such a level, I am sure, will help the country both economically and socially," he added.
The state-owned broadcaster Oman TV has committed to cover 73 of the inaugural season's 91 games — a near 50 per cent television coverage, compared to the previous incarnation of Omani football's top league. "This is just a beginning in our quest to completely professionalise all aspects of the game. I thank all our commercial partners and friends from all around the world from whom we learnt and who helped us to reach this level. As for now, let the games begin," Sayyid Khalid said.