UAE superstars Ali Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman should be free to return for next week’s Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final deciders after a loophole about eligibility potentially shortened their domestic bans for infractions on national duty.
2016 AFC Player of the Year Abdulrahman, 26, and 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Mabkhout, 27, were given four-match suspensions on January 23 for breaking curfew the night before January 5’s Gulf Cup-final defeat to Oman.
Their bans were frozen from January 28-February 4 during the process of appeals being submitted, and then rejected.
Overage players can be registered for the Arabian Gulf Reserve League, which is designed for Under-21s.
Factoring in two games for this competition means the pair should play against Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday (Mabkhout) and at Al Wahda on Friday (Abdulrahman).
Stand-in striker Hassan Mohammed notched a superb late header to salvage a draw for Al Wasl against fallen champions Al Jazira, but critical ground in the Arabian Gulf League’s title race continues to be lost.
In the absences of star attackers Caio Canedo and Ali Mabkhout for both teams, Brazilian forward Romarinho’s sharp instincts had put the Pride of Abu Dhabi ahead in first-half injury-time.
Here, we examine the main talking points:
CHEETAHS KEEP THEIR BITE
A tight ship is run at Wasl, meaning the bottom line is more important than breaking budget.
Their squad is, certainly, not as deep as title rivals Al Ain or Al Wahda and the one-match ban for 12-goal striker Caio Canedo threatened to sink them against Jazira.
Instead, Cheetahs replacement Hassan Mohammed notched a fine leveller. Substitutes Anthony Caceres and Mohamed Surour turned a losing midfield battle around.
They might well have enough to keep this a three-way fight.
ONLY PRIDE TO PLAY FOR
The AGL has witnessed some wretched title defences in recent years.
Al Ain limped home sixth in 2013/14. Al Ahli finished a place (seventh) and five points worse off (38) the following season.
Current holders Jazira did surprisingly well on Wednesday night. They rattled the woodwork twice and went ahead through Romarinho’s tap-in.
But the institutional chaos which has gripped them is summed up by bargain-basement Oman internationals Harib Al Saadi and Mohammed Al Musalami coming in during a winter that saw stellar summer additions Ahmed Khalil and Lassana Diarra alarmingly exit.
They could end the round in sixth, a cavernous 16 points from the top.
Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena cut a surprisingly skittish figure.
The ex-Argentina full-back was coiled like a spring on the touchline. A tactics board also looked like it was about to be snapped during the interval.
Maybe Jazira have this effect on him – he’s recorded no wins in five meetings. Or maybe it’s the dawning reality of a probable six-point deficit to Al Ain, with only six games left?
Al Ain will continue to reap benefits from the “genuine feelings of joy” experienced by Hussein El Shahat after his stellar first month was rewarded with a chance to gatecrash Egypt‘s World Cup 2018 squad.
El Shahat, 26, rocketed in a hat-trick during Saturday’s 7-0 demolition of promoted Ajman. This saw the midfielder move onto an incredible five goals and four assists for the Arabian Gulf League title chasers since a deadline-day loan switch from Misr lel-Makasa.
Such fine form has not gone unnoticed by his native country, who are preparing for a first appearances in 28 years at the finals. Impressed Pharaohs coach Hector Cuper this week handed the player – who last year featured in two unofficial friendlies – a spot in March’s training camp in Switzerland, alongside the likes of Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah.
“Sometimes it is very difficult to find suitable words to express the genuine feelings of joy,” El Shahat told his club’s website ahead of Thursday’s visit by Emirates Club. “The call I received meant a lot since joining Egypt’s national team is a great dream, especially as we are on the verge of our official participation in the World Cup.”
Breaking free of mid-table Misr did not prove easy after scoring nine goals in the 2017/18 Egyptian Premier League.
El Shahat said: “Two offers submitted by Egypt’s Al Ahly and Zamalek were rejected.
“However, when the club’s chairman, Mohamed Abdul Salam, who considers all the players as his sons, told me about the offer made by Al Ain I did not hesitate. I did confirm explicitly that I have the desire to enter into a professional experience as a gateway for me to join the international list.”
Elsewhere, bottom-placed Al Dhafra could be cut adrift if fellow strugglers Dibba Al Fujairah inflict a ninth defeat in 16 matches.
On Friday, returning coach Ivan Jovanovic will aim for a perfect third victory in three games when Al Nasr travel to Ajman. Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club won for the first time since October 14 last time out in the AGL, and now face Sharjah.