In an ominous message to the Arabian Gulf League-chasing pack, the champions and leaders look enlivened by the South American signings. Their pace and power stood in stark contrast to the lethargy of the men they replaced, with Ryan Babel and Emmanuel Emenike already distant memories.
An already-strong squad – which may be added to by released Al Jazira defensive midfielder Yaser Matar before Monday’s transfer deadline – has been significantly bolstered on early evidence. The fourth-placed Cheetahs put up resistance at the start of both halves, yet when Colombian winger Asprilla turned on the turbo chargers and Brazilian No9 Douglas stood tall they were helpless.
With redoubtable centre-backs Mohanad Salem and Ismail Ahmed maintaining the standard expected from the division’s meanest defence during a controlled second half, it will take all Al Ahli’s power to wrestle back the crown.
Asprilla – a €2.5 million (Dh9.9m) buy from Bulgaria’s Litex Lovetch – had scored an incredible, last-minute winner on debut at Al Dhafra in the club’s previous top-flight engagement.
He carried on where he left off during his Hazza bin Zayed Stadium-bow, bamboozling usually-solid Wasl right-back Yasser Salem inside the penalty area on 19 minutes to tee up returning UAE winger Mohamed Abdulrahman on the back stick to slot into the roof of the goal.
Wasl had started the stronger, Gabriel Calderon’s men showing no ill-effects from Tuesday’s disheartening semi-final loss to Al Wahda in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Despite Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima’s probing, the Dubai side were two down with 10 minutes of the opening period left. A poor header from stand-in centre-back Abdulla Al Juneibi was seized upon by the excellent Mohamed Abdulrahman, his delicate slide-rule pass setting Douglas free to calmly slot past the on-rushing Yousef Abdulla.
The Brazilian celebrated under a poster saying ‘Welcome Douglas’. A composed finish at his new home hints that the 2015 J League’s second-top scorer will be continuing his hot streak in the UAE since a €3.9m (Dh15.5m) switch from Tokushima Vortis.
There was even time for excellent summer buy Fellipe Bastos to drive on from midfield and shoot low into the bottom corner at the death for a fine fifth AGL effort.
Wasl couldn’t get close to Dalic’s men. Will anybody else in the remainder of the season?