Depleted champions Al Jazira battled back to stun Al Ain in a gripping latest instalment of ‘Al Clasico’, highlighted by the shootout between apex predators Ali Mabkhout and Marcus Berg.
The aforementioned summer buy from Panathinaikos moved onto six goals in seven productive Arabian Gulf League-run-outs within 20 minutes. Yet these strikes, at the same time speculation about iconic fellow Swede Zlatan Ibrahimovic’s World Cup 2018-aspirations cranked up a gear thanks to his return for Manchester United after seven months out, could not quell game visitors for whom Mabkhout ruthlessly capitalised on errors just before the whistle in both halves to earn an uplifting share of the spoils.
The broken Boss will point to a loss of control catalysed by injury to rebounding centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman before the half-hour mark. Yet in the absence of celebrated opposite numbers Mbark Boussoufa of Morocco and Lassana Diarra of France, they should have had enough to gain a first derby win in five top-flight outings.
Berg, himself, was guilty of two later wild misses as the match ball slipped from his grasp.
Jazira’s result brought a shot of confidence three weeks out from the FIFA Club World Cup on home soil. Worries about a 10-point gap to now sole leaders Al Wasl can wait.
In the opposite camp, coach Zoran Mamic must immediately lift deflated troops after slips from Caio and teenager Saeed Juma.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 18, 2017
Meanwhile, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club finally broke their three-match scoreless streak but could only record a disappointing 1-1 draw with Dibba Al Fujairah.
Senegal hit man Makhete Diop responded from close range early in the second half to Ahmed Ibrahim’s shock opener.
Al Wahda’s attackers all struck as they thrashed Emirates Club 4-1.
Mohammad Malalla’s own goal got things started, with Sebastian Tagliabue, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Mourad Batna forcing the others.
Utility man Mohammed Fawzi has urged his UAE compatriots to embrace the culture of change after new coach Alberto Zaccheroni laid out a blueprint for success at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
A profligate 1-0 loss on debut to Haiti plus an Ali Mabkhout-inspired 1-0 triumph against Uzbekistan were recorded under the ex-AC Milan, Juventus and Japan tactician during this international break. Fresh faces, such as Al Nasr prospect Jassem Yaqoub, received educational minutes in both fixtures, while the latter clash at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium saw the Italian’s trademark 3-4-3 formation wheeled out.
These alterations combined to create a marked shift from the short Edgardo Bauza-era which preceded, featuring three mixed competitive matches and a failure to make World Cup 2018. For Al Jazira’s Fawzi, who played in centre midfield in the 4-3-3 utilised against the Haitians before switching to right wing-back in Zaccheroni’s second run-out, a willingness to be adaptable is key to prospering in the latest regime.
“We’ve got a new coach and we play now with 3-4-3,” said the 27-year-old. “We have to train in this plan, for the future.
“We didn’t look for a result, we looked for something good for ourselves. We have a lot of young players, and they have a lot of energy.
“The result comes last. But when you win, you always feel happy.
“I hope in the next camp it will be easier for us. This time, the coach had only 10 days with us.
“Hopefully, he’ll have more time to learn about what the players need and what they want.”
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) November 14, 2017
The Whites expect to next come together from December 9-17, with plans under way to attract European opposition.
Zaccheroni vowed to study the Arabian Gulf League in the intervening weeks to mine for more surprise call-ups.
He said: “I told the players that I’m not a coach for one or two individuals, but for the entire team.
“I’ll be looking for new players all the time because we didn’t have many of the regulars in the two games we played. I’ll be watching and scouting for new players, and providing them the opportunities.”
Veteran team manager Abdullah Saleh praised the October appointment’s early work, joking about the contrast to the high-profile failure on the Road to Russia of Zaccheroni’s nation.
He said: “I am very happy, because I feel how the Europeans deal with the professionals. I could see his plans, his brain – it was fantastic.
“He is doing good. Italy went out of the World Cup, but he is doing good.”
Shockwaves were sent through UAE football on Tuesday after leading striker Ahmed Khalil agreed a stunning early release from his monster deal signed last summer at Al Jazira, with boyhood side Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club competing to bring him back against Al Ain and Al Nasr.
Khalil, 26, inked a four-year deal worth Dh18 million per annum in July once he allowed his contract at – the now defunct – Al Ahli to expire. But the marquee arrival’s time in Abu Dhabi has been tarnished by contractual issues and ongoing problems with fitness – his last of two scoreless Arabian Gulf League-games came on September 22.
No official confirmation arrived from Jazira on Tuesday night. But Shabab Al Ahli, the Boss and Blue Wave are in the mix.
Senior figures at Rashid Stadium have been in talks with Khalil’s camp for several days and remain confident of a positive conclusion.
Cosmin Olaroiu’s side have failed to register during their previous three Arabian Gulf League matches.
Further reports in Arabic media have also stated Saudi Arabia giants Al Hilal and an unnamed Chinese Super League-outfit could enter the pursuit.
Khalil’s stock remains high after he scored a joint global high of 16 goals during the UAE’s unsuccessful attempt to make World Cup 2018.