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?
New Al Wahda signing Rim Chang-woo cannot wait for his Arabian Gulf League debut at Al Shabab on Saturday night.
Rim, 23, was unveiled on Friday after he was snapped up for $1million from Ulsan Hyundai on a deal until July 2018.
“It’s a new world for me,” said the three-times-capped South Korea right-back. “Al Wahda has lined up an exciting squad and with a great manager in Javier Aguirre. I hope my experience will be of great use to my team-mates.”
Meanwhile, Al Ahli boss Cosmin Olaroiu has urged his side to keep chasing the treble. The Red Knights will play Wahda in April 1’s Arabian Gulf Cup final thanks to Tuesday’s 3-2 win at Al Shabab.
They sit second in the top-flight and will be one of the main competitors in the President’s Cup.
“I’m going to direct them to it,” the Romanian said ahead of tonight’s trip to Emirates Club. “It is the only choice I have. The team deserves the treble.”
Al Ain boss Zlatko Dalic has promised not to rush star striker Douglas into making an immediate bow against Al Wasl.
Douglas, 28, joined the reigning champions this month as a replacement for Emmanuel Emenike. He said: “The player did not reach the degree of physical readiness required. We were able to be patient for six months to bring in a striker of Douglas’ value, so we can endure one more game.”
Al Nasr dropped vital points in the Arabian Gulf League title race after Makhete Diop popped up at the death to punish Amer Mubarak’s moment of madness and secure a 1-1 draw for Al Dhafra on Friday.
The Blue Wave came into round 15 in third place, nine points behind leaders Al Ain. The visit of a side locked in the relegation zone should have presented the perfect opportunity to keep up the pace. But defensive midfielder Mubarak hamstrung this attempt, being dismissed for a second yellow card in just the 20th minute after scything down Syria forward Omar Khribin.
Nasr initially rebounded, Western Knights debutant Issam El Adoua soon clumsily felling winger Jonathan Pitroipa in the penalty box. Forward Jires Kembo Ekoko then stepped up to notch his fourth top-flight goal in 2015-16.
However, Dhafra dug in and finally made their numerical advantage count in the 86th minute as Senegal target man Diop rose highest to nod in UAE forward Ahmed Ali’s lofted centre.
Meanwhile, Fujairah increased bottom-placed Al Shaab’s misery as doubles from Patrick Eze and Khalil Khamei earned an entertaining 6-3 away win.
The goal fest began in a painful manner for new Commandos signing Ismail Aljasmi, who headed into his own goal in the 14th minute.
Brazilian forwards Ze Eduardo and Marcos de Santana then turned the match around for the hosts. Incredibly, Eze struck from a rebound and headed in Christoph Mandanne’s cross to make it 3-2 to the visitors at the break.
Khameis and Mandanne made it 5-2 by the 77th minute to take the game away from Shaab. De Santana added some gloss to the score, before Khameis completed the rout.
Kenwyne Jones nodded in his first Al Jazira goal but was denied a match-winner by Wanderley’s excellent leveller for Sharjah.
Jones, 31, beat on-rushing goalkeeper Rashid Ahmed to a deep Thiago Neves ball to open his account following a six-month loan move from Cardiff City.
The lead was only to last five minutes as brilliant Brazilian Wanderley forced home his ninth goal this term. He skilfully evaded young left-back Saeed Hizam’s challenge before slotting into the bottom corner of returning keeper Ali Khaseif’s goal. Bani Yas’ attempt to kick-start their season ended in more frustration as Bakary Kone struck a late leveller for Dibba Al Fujairah.
It took until 76 minutes for the deadlock to be broken at Fujairah Stadium, Argentine centre forward Joaquin Larrivey heading in an 11th goal in 19 appearances for the Sky Blues since a summer switch from Celta Vigo.
A second victory in 10 top-flight matches was then denied after Ivorian midfelder Kone fired home from the edge of the area to earn a 1-1 draw for the promoted side.