Ali Mabkhout, Saif Rashid and Paulo Comelli feature in Arabian Gulf League picks of the week

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Ali Mabkhout (r) in action for Al Jazira against Hatta (Al Jazira).

Another week of action in the Arabian Gulf League threw up a catalogue of stunning results and fine performances.

Here are the men we thought shone the most:

Player of the week

Saif Rashid

(Sharjah)

Vander Vieira got a brace from the penalty spot as the King stunned leaders Al Ain, but it was his young Emirati team-mate who did much of the damage. The pace of Rashid, 23, unsettled the Boss backline throughout and saw him felled by UAE No1 Khalid Essa for the second penalty. The only thing missing for the forward was a goal – he’s yet to get off the mark in the 2017/18 competition.

Goal of the week

Ali Mabkhout

(Al Jazira)

The UAE predator has missed too many matches to retain his top-scorer crown, but still remains the competition’s premier finisher. A brace versus Hatta included an illustrative second goal. Mabkhout first had the composure to ward off an advancing goalkeeper and then provided the precision to find the top corner in a box packed with five Hatta defenders. What a striker.

Coach of the week

Paulo Comelli

(Dibba Al Fujairah)

A painful wait of 147 days between top-flight triumphs was ended this weekend by the Fishermen, and in some style. High-flying Al Wasl were put to the sword during a match in which Dibba defended stoically and restricted the Cheetahs to long-range shots from Fabio De Lima. This morale-boosting victory was perfectly timed – fellow strugglers Hatta are up next on Friday.

Talking points

Who wants to claim the title?

A defining week awaits in the AGL. Long-term leaders Al Ain and second-placed Al Wahda are separated by just a point heading into Thursday’s summit meeting at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. But both sides are stumbling. Al Ain were dismantled 3-1 at Sharjah and have drawn both 2018 AFC Champions League ties. Wahda drew 0-0 with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and come up well short in their Asian contests. Whoever picks themselves up off the canvas can get a defining result, with just five games left.

AGL results & table

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Al Ain suffer first AGL loss as they go down 3-1 to Sharjah

Denzil Pinto 24/02/2018
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Not good enough: Omar Abdulrahman (left) scored Al Ain's equaliser from the penalty spot.

Al Ain were unable to extend their lead at the top as they were condemned to their first Arabian Gulf League defeat of the season with a 3-1 loss to Sharjah last night.

The Boss went into the match knowing a win would see them open a four-point gap over title rivals and second-placed Al Wahda following the Clarets’ stalemate to Shabab Al Ahli on Friday.

But they were beaten by a Sharjah side in a match that saw three goals come from the penalty spot at the Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium.

The King made a bright start and took an early lead when Vander Vieira was brought down inside the box by Ismail Ahmed. The Brazilian made no mistake from the penalty spot, firing home for his fifth league goal of the season.

Their lead however, lasted only 10 minutes as Al Ain equalised through Omar Abdulrahman’s effort. After Hassan Saleh tripped Hussein El Shahat inside the box, ‘Amoory’ powered the ball into the back of the net.

Al Ain began to find their rhythm and Mohamed Abdulrahman was unlucky to see his 35-yard shot go agonisingly wide.

With the scores level at half-time, the match was still in the balance, but despite Al Ain’s possession they were unable to take their chances and were soon made to pay.

In the 65th minute, the referee awarded the third penalty of the night when Saif Rashid won the penalty after being fouled by visiting goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. That saw Vieira double his tally for the evening with a 2-1 lead.

Zoran Mamic’s side continued to press forward for the leveler and Caio had a glorious opportunity when put through one-on-one.

However, the Brazilian was wasteful, bizarrely missing from the six-yard box.

The visitors’ task of getting back into the game got even more difficult three minutes from time when Luiz Marcelo got his first league goal of the season.

After a long pass from goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani was nodded by Yousif Saeed, Welliton Soares outpaced his marker to square for for Marcelo who slotted home Sharjah’s third goal of the season.

The result means Al Ain’s lead at the top is reduced to just one point ahead of Al Wahda. The two sides will meet in their next match at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday.

For Sharjah, they overtake Ajman and Shabab Al Ahli into sixth place with 22 points.

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Arabian Gulf League could be gatecrashed by ambitious City Football Club

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City Football Club training is undertaken by experienced professionals (CFC).

Terry Kidd and his new City Football Club do not do things by halves.

Only launched last September, they hold ambitious plans to be Dubai’s lead academy and make the seismic step of turning professional within just 12 months – eventually becoming the first expatriate outfit to gain a historic place in the Arabian Gulf League.

This latter sphere has been the sole preserve of Emiratis since Al Nasr was founded back in 1945. But within a mood of merged teams, such as last May’s tumultuous amalgamation of Al Ahli, Al Shabab and Dubai CSC to form Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, the financial benefits of the untapped foreigners market appears alluring.

“That is the long-term goal,” says director of football and head coach Kidd, an ex-professional footballer with Aberdeen who is a 12-year veteran of the UAE football scene.

“Is it attainable in a 12-month cycle?

“I think we have to be realistic and respect where football is at in the UAE. There is a lot going on right now, with some pro clubs merging.

“We obviously have to meet the criteria, which will be extensive.

“Financially, we’d have to advance the funding to ensure we can create an infrastructure to coach the players for the next level and create an environment where they can compete at professional level, locally.

“That is the objective. We don’t want to fall into the pit where we become just another private, expat academy.”

CFC’s mandate is to unearth the next generation of professional footballers via elite training by FIFA-approved practitioners. Highly qualified UEFA ‘A’ and ‘B’-licensed coaches have been recruited from within the UAE and British football.

More than 350 kids have already come through trials. In total, the academy caters for boys and girls from the ages of four to 18.

Kidd is convinced his high-performance program will provide the gateway for the most-promising players to secure berths at professional clubs in Europe or spots in the United States’ collegiate system.

He said: “We kicked off in September, so we are still very young. The plan, vision and philosophy for the club is creating an elite environment that provides an elite level of coaching.

“The core focus is on high performance. We are expecting our players to train more and get more out of the programme, meaning it is not one-dimensional.

“We look at sports science and we go through the analytic side, giving players ownership.

“The end result is sending them to professional outfits in the United Kingdom, or even a collegiate direction in the United States. I have been taking kids to top Division 1, 2 and 3 schools.”

The goal of joining the AGL remains an eye-catching aspect of this plan. Scope for improvement is obvious, sparsely attended fixtures and increased financial losses showing change is required.

Overtures to the UAE Football Association by CFC have been met with a positive response.

“Yes, we have spoken to them,” says Kidd. “There is encouragement about new teams, but you have to start at the grassroots – let us get our little pyramid built, before we try to build an empire.”

Trials are offered per inquiry. Each child will be profiled, evaluated and assessed, before being placed in the most-apt band.

Charges are paid per term, with a scholarship scheme in place. Training takes place at various locations across Dubai.

For more information, visit www.dubaicityfc.com.

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