After yet another pulsating round of action from the Arabian Gulf League, Matt Jones casts his eye back over the events of the weekend, which saw leaders Al Ain enter seventh heaven against Ajman, while former UAE national team coach Mahdi Ali earned a first league with in charge of Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Here’s the best bits from this weekend:
Player of the Week: Hussein El Shahat (Al Ain)
What a find. In a title battle that looks like it will be a close one, players acquired in January could make the difference. And the Egyptian midfielder is well and truly blossoming in the Garden City.
Has netted five times in his first four games for the Boss. He bagged a hat-trick in Saturday’s 7-0 rout of Ajman, and added two more assists. Notable mention to Al Wahda’s Sebastian Tagliabue, who notched his 100th AGL goal for the Clarets.
Goal of the Week: Yaser Al Juneibi (Al Dhafra)
The winner of this every week is always usually a cracking effort, but we’ve never seen an own goal quite as spectacular as this. Luckless Al Juneibi appeared to have done everything right, dispossessing the dangerous Ali Mabkhout who had brought down a long ball delightfully.
Unfortunately, instead of rocketing the ball out of play for a corner, Al Juneibi rifled an unstoppable effort into his own top corner, giving goalkeeper Zayed Ahmed no chance whatsoever.
Coach of the week: Mahdi Ali (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club)
It’s been a tough return to the club Ali spent 15 years at as a player and whom he briefly managed in 2009/10. It’s been a pretty tough start to life for Ali since replacing the enigmatic Cosmin Olaroiu in early December.
Two defeats and two draws had been recorded in the AGL until a maiden win arrived in the form of a 2-0 victory at Emirates Club at the weekend. Stuck in mid-table following a league high eight stalemates from 15 fixtures, perhaps this is the turning point for 2015/16 champions.
Talking point: Can the Tornado spin another unlikely escape bid
It’s been a case of second season syndrome for the side from the UAE-Oman border, who surprised many last season with their relegation survival story having earned promotion to the top-flight for the first time in nearly a decade. Nizar Mahrous’ men hadn’t won in the league for two months prior to Friday’s 3-1 victory over fellow strugglers Sharjah.
It was a priceless win, finally releasing them from the grip of the relegation spots after a prolonged stay and inching them closer to the King who they trail by just three points. With all the other sides below them losing, the great escape could be on once more.
Zoran Mamic has issued a stark warning to Al Wahda, Al Wasl and any other teams standing in Al Ain’s path towards the Arabain Gulf League title – insisting they must “double their efforts” if they want to stop the Boss.
Mamic’s men served notice of their prowess and desire to lift a maiden AGL title in three years with a resounding 7-0 thrashing of surprise league package Ajman on Saturday.
Egyptian schemer Hussein El Shahat continued his excellent form since arriving from Misr Lel Makkasa during the winter transfer window with a vibrant hat-trick against the Orange Brigade, as well as adding two assists for exciting youngster Rayan Yaslam and fellow January arrival Ahmed Khalil.
It kept the Boss two points clear at the top of the table, ahead of Laurentiu Reghecampf’s Wahda who edged out fellow title challengers Wasl 4-3 in an epic encounter in Abu Dhabi on Friday.
The Cheetahs, four points adrift of Al Ain, and the Clarets are the only two likely challengers to the Boss, and Mamic has laid down the gauntlet to the duo.
“There is no team that can put pressure on us and those who want to catch up with us will have to double their efforts if they want to win the league title, they have to achieve the results,” said Mamic in his post match press conference on Saturday.
“I’m happy with my team, the players are very strong and have the professional mentality that always leads them to achieve the best results.
“They wanted to score more goals and if we follow our results in the same way, we will achieve our goals.
“It’s difficult to talk about just one point of the match, but we had good organisation, tactical discipline and consistency were all positive factors, and I have to pay tribute to the three midfielders, Ahmed Barman, Mohammed Abdulrahman and Rayan Yaslam.
“They showed high skills and succeeded in linking between the lines of defense and attack. Like many coaches, the best way to play is with one-touch football and a good team performance.”
Despite the sizeable margin of victory, perfectionist Mamic was not entirely happy, and insisted his team keep their concentration throughout the entire 90 minutes.
“We played 88 minutes at the required level, but we did not show the same performance in two minutes out of the 90,” added the Croatian.
“We have called on the players not to give the opponent any chance to score against us, which requires us to work to redouble our efforts during the next phase to address the mistakes that cost a lot in some games.
“But, generally, the team deserves the deserved victory after a good performance.”
Mamic lavished particular praise on Barman, who played 65 minutes despite injuring his shoulder in Tuesday’s 2-0 AFC Champions League play-off victory over Bahraini champions Malkiya.
Of some concern will be a knock El Shahat took in scoring his hat-trick goal. The 26-year-old collided with Ajman stopper Hamad Khalid and immediately hit the deck.
Former Bani Yas wideman Bandar Al Ahbabi was replaced at the break, meanwhile, by Mohamed Ahmed, but Mamic expects both players to train this week, while he also believes talisman Omar Abdulrahman will be available for Thursday’s game against Emirates Club at the Hazza.
‘Amoory’ and fellow UAE star Ali Mabkhout were handed four-match domestic suspensions by the UAE Football Association on January 23 after they broke a curfew while on international duty at the Gulf Cup in Kuwait in December.
Both Al Ain and Al Jazira appealed the suspensions, surprisingly issued to cover domestic games and punishing the duo’s clubs. But Mamic stated defiantly: “Amoory is ready.”
The Boss dropped off the front overnight thanks to Al Wahda’s stunning 4-3 victory against fellow title contenders Al Wasl. Spurred on by that result, the hosts at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium ran rampant and made it 18 matches undefeated in the top flight.
It took only seven minutes for the breakthrough to be found when Misr Lel Makkasa-loanee El Shahat saw his goal-bound effort deflected in off Adeilson. Sweden No9 Marcus Berg then produced his 12th goal in 14 AGL run-outs with a header into the far corner.
A smart finish from El Shahat followed, before brilliant Brazilian forward Caio produced a wonder goal from long range to make it 4-0 by the half-hour mark.
El Shahat teed up UAE youngster Rayan Yaslam for the fifth soon after the interval. The Egyptian set up coveted winter recruit Ahmed Khalil on the 76th minute before completing his trio, and the scoring, on 82 minutes.
Meanwhile, returning coach Ivan Jovanovic’s renaissance at Al Nasr continued with a fine 2-0 victory at Dibba Al Fujairah.
The decision to rehire the man sacked in October 2016 continued to bear fruit for the Blue Wave. A pair of victories have been produced in his two matches in full control – a 1-0 defeat at Wahda was recorded under caretaker, Ali Murad.
Youngster Rashid Omer opened the scoring on 41 minutes when he danced past two Fishermen defenders and hit a shot which deflected in. Right-back Ahmed Al Yassi sealed the points on 58 minutes with a powerful strike.
Floundering champions Al Jazira were given a helping hand by Yasser Abdulla’s epic own goal in a 3-1 win against bottom-placed Al Dhafra.