Otabek Shukurov shines for Sharjah in latest Arabian Gulf League picks of the week

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Otabek Shukurov (l) battling hard or Sharjah (all PLC).

Round 16 of the Arabian Gulf League delivered an imposing performance for leaders Al Ain, saw relegation-fodder Al Dhafra gain hope and more misery be inflicted on Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.

Here, we examine the standout performers:

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Otabek Shukurov (Sharjah)

Uzbekistan royalty has been procured by the King.

Shukurov, 22, helped corral a Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club midfield that contained UAE internationals Habib Fardan and Khamis Esmail, before showing superb energy deep into injury time to drive into the box and earn the match-winning penalty.

Sharjah’s work in the market has had more hits than misses in recent years. Their January buy looks to be in the former category.

GOAL OF THE WEEK

Hassan Mohammed (Al Wasl)

Vital points appeared set to drain down the gutter as the Cheetahs went about chasing down Al Jazira’s 1-0 half-time lead.

Their cause appeared utterly forlorn as suspended 12-goal striker Caio Canedo watched on from the stands at Zabeel Satdium.

Mohammed had looked every inch the stand-in, that is until a moment of inspiration came in the 85th minute. He athletically sprung into the air and directed a perfect header into the far corner, for his first league goal this term.

Al Wasl goal scorer Hassan Mohammed (r).

Al Wasl goal scorer Hassan Mohammed (r).

COACH OF THE WEEK

Gjoko Hadzievski (Al Dhafra)

For the first time since September 21’s second round of top-flight fixtures, the Western Knights have the sweet feeling of success.

This was a clutch match for Hadzievski, defeat to fellow strugglers Dibba Al Fujairah not worth countenancing.

Instead, goals from UAE reserve striker Saeed Al Kathiri – via a poor defensive header – and Uzbekistan forward Igor Sergeev provided hope.

This win also saw them escape the foot of the table.

Al Dhafra coach Gjoko Hadzievski (Al Dhafra).

Al Dhafra coach Gjoko Hadzievski (c) (Al Dhafra).

TALKING POINT

Who knows where the Shabab Al Ahli experiment is headed?

Teething problems for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club continue to bite, more than eight months since May’s tumultuous merger.

A team packed full of UAE internationals are 18 points off the pace, disillusionment in the stands against Sharjah saw a banner unfurled asking for clarity from club management and rumours swirl about a return to the separate entities.

This confusion is not helping anyone at Rashid Stadium.

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Superstar Wesley Sneijder to get welcome mat this week from former Ajax pal Mbark Boussoufa

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Mbark Boussoufa (c) in action for Al Jazira.

It will be a case of friends reunited in Abu Dhabi this week when Al Jazira’s Mbark Boussoufa rewinds the clock with the visit of Netherlands superstar Wesley Sneijder.

Ex-Real Madrid, Internazionale and Galatasaray attacking midfielder Sneijder, 33, represents the headline attraction in the capital for the visit of Qatar’s Al Gharafa as Group A in the 2018 AFC Champions League gets off to a glamourous start.

This meeting in a Middle East-outpost is a world away from when the celebrated pair were just teenagers in Amsterdam’s fabled Ajax Youth Academy.

Boussoufa, also 33, has gone on to make more than 350 professional appearances for the likes of Anderlecht, Anzhi Makhachkala and Arabian Gulf League champions Jazira, plus has a spot at this summer’s World Cup with Morocco in his sights. The chance to welcome a familiar face is one he intends to embrace on Monday.

“I played Wesley last season with the national team [Netherlands won a friendly 2-1 in Agadir on May 31, 2007] and it will be nice, I’ve known Wesley since I was 13-years old,” said Boussoufa in the wake of the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s 1-1 draw at Al Wasl in the top flight on Wednesday. “We were both in the academy [at Ajax] and he was around my age.

“It will be nice to see him. Of course, he has done very well for himself.

“I hope he is enjoying himself.”

Boussoufa has had little opportunity for “enjoying himself” during a trying title defence for Jazira.

Institutional disorder has seen coveted UAE striker Ahmed Khalil and ex-France anchorman – plus his team-mate from Anzhi and Lokomotiv Moscow – Lassana Diarra arrive last summer and exit this winter.

A rousing fourth-place finish at December’s Club World Cup on home soil helped lift spirits, yet the midweek stalemate at Wasl means the holders are a colossal 16 points off the pace.

Boussoufa could not deny the draining impact of the off-field distractions.

He said: “There are too many things going on – maybe, too many things. But okay, we are professional players. This year, we did very well at the Club World Cup.

“Not as well in the competition [AGL], but that is normal as it is always difficult to follow up one championship with another.

“That is unless you are the Chicago Bulls – and we are not.”

Jazira will hope to make the Arabian Gulf Cup’s semi-finals when they play Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday.

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Omar Abdulrahman and Ali Mabkhout loophole means bans could be cut short

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Ali Mabkhout is set for a quick return for Al Jazira.

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).

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