Two stars absent, but Skrtel participating in 2018 King's Cup

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FA Thailand
The 2018 King's Cup will kick off this Thursday, with four teams taking part; Gabon, Slovakia, UAE and hosts and defending champions Thailand.

The 2018 King's Cup will take place this weekend, with the four participating teams set to play their respective first matches on Thursday, March 22 at the Rajamangala Stadium, Bangkok.

Slovakia will take on United Arab Emirates (UAE) first on Thursday, while hosts and defending champions Thailand will face Gabon later that evening. The two match winners will then play in the final match on Sunday, March 25, while the losers will play in the third place play-off on the same day.

However, Southeast Asian fans looking forward to watching the stars in the competition will no doubt be slightly disappointed that two of them will not be available.

Arsenal star Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has not joined the Gabon squad, due to the sudden passing of his grandmother.

UAE meanwhile will be without 2016 AFC Champions League Most Valuable Player Omar Abdulrahman and striker Ali Mabkhout, who had been dropped by head coach Alberto Zaccheroni due to earlier disciplinary problems.

However, former Liverpool star Martin Škrtel is set to feature for Slovakia and still remembers his time in Bangkok with the Reds during their Asian tours; "Glad to be back again. I've been here with Liverpool before, the fans are fantastic, it's a full house back then. Obviously we're looking forward to tomorrow's match."

Martin Škrtel & Ismail Matar

Martin Skrtel (left) and UAE's Ismail Matar. Photo by Goal Thailand

Gabon goalkeeper Didier Ovono meanwhile has paid tribute to Aubameyang in the competition press conference: "We're really sad about what has happened to him. His absence will obviously affect us. But this will also give the chance to other players to perform as well. We will play for each other and for him."

Zaccheroni has downplayed Omar and Ali's absence: "Their absence affects us a bit, but we are still a good team overall.

"It's my pleasure to join the King's Cup. All four are good teams, Slovakia are a leading side in Europe. But we're well prepared, so we have no worries for the first match.

"Obviously, every team is aiming for the trophy, but we're looking to provide experience to all our players too."
 
And hosts Thailand are looking to defend their title with the help of their overseas-based players.

"We won last year, so we'll work hard to retain the title. All participants are top class teams. I hope everyone will be happy with this great tournament.

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"We have four players back from abroad (three from Japan, one from Belgium) which is obviously a good news. Those returning from Japan have greatly improved, Kawin (Kawin Thammasatchanan, goalkeeper for Belgium's OH Leuven) as well. 

"Gabon are one of the best in their continent, with a great coach, lots of players from European clubs. Such a strong and dangerous one.

"We played Kenya last year, and we want to win against Gabon. We have to play like when we played Kenya. Teamwork and discipline are top priorities."

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