Summer buy Ernest Asante’s impressive start continued as he inspired Al Jazira’s 5-2 thrashing of Fujairah in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Asante, 29, lobbed home the opener and forward Ahmed Rabea made it 5-0 by 57 minutes from his cross. In-between, midfielder Abdalla Ramadan smashed in, Brazilian winger Leonardo struck a perfect free-kick and full-back Salim Rashid literally broke the net with a rasping drive.
In response, Wolves skipper Omar Kissoko struck a powerful effort and teed up midfielder Ahmad Murad.
Elsewhere in Group B’s first round, Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain saw Brazilian forward Caio score twice and assist another in a 4-1 win at Sharjah.
Caio made it 2-0 by 35 minutes thanks to a penalty-kick and low shot. His later cross then set-up Japan utility man Tsukasa Shiotani.
Playmaker Igor Coronado’s tapped in to make it 3-1 on 79 minutes, before ex-Sharjah forward Jamal Maroof forcefully struck.
Brazilian winger Marcos Gabriel’s volley earned a 1-0 win for 10-man Al Nasr – defender Hamad Hasan was sent off – versus Emirates Club.
Superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman’s grand return for the UAE is set to take place in unlikely surroundings on Thursday when troubled preparations for January 2019’s Asian Cup continue with a friendly against Trinidad and Tobago (20:00 UAE) at Catalonia’s Estadi Palamos Costa Brava.
Here are the talking points from the first part of a double header that concludes with Tuesday’s meeting with lowly Laos.
AMOORY’S RESCUE MISSION
The time for reintroductions has arrived.
Amoory, 26, finally departed UAE borders this summer. But after years of speculation about a ground-breaking switch to Europe, he now dons the proud blue of Saudi Arabia behemoths Al Hilal.
The ex-Al Ain idol has not played for the Whites since January because of misdemeanours – along with fellow returnee Ali Mabkhout of Al Jazira – at that month’s Gulf Cup, subsequent absence for March’s King’s Cup and complications caused by a wrought exit that ensured he missed August’s Austria training camp. That concluded with a depressing goalless draw against minnows Andorra.
Abdulrahman has shown flashes of genius in two competitive – and goalless – starts for Hilal.
The 2016 AFC Player of the Year’s spark is desperately required by struggling Whites coach Alberto Zaccheroni.
الأبيض يستعد لمواجهته الدولية الودية أمام منتخب ترينداد وتوباغو الخميس ضمن معسكره الحالي المقام في مدينة جيرونا الإسبانية استعدادا لنهائيات كأس آسيا الإمارات 2019 ..#منتخب_الإمارات pic.twitter.com/D5RKU14TXq— UAE NT (@uaent2019) September 4, 2018
TRINIDAD’S ROUGH TRIP
A sojourn in Spain has brought nothing but misery for towering Soca Warriors boss Dennis Lawrence.
The ex-Everton first-team development coach’s squad arrived on Monday and hadn’t trained by Wednesday morning.
“I believe it’s the representative of the match agent, those are the ones that got everything wrong in terms of no bus turning up for our training sessions and no pitches arranged,” an infuriated Lawrence stated.
Time together was precious for undercooked Trinidad. April’s 1-0 friendly defeat against World Cup 2018 qualifiers Panama was the last time they played.
ZACCH MUST ATTACK
The Asian Cup currently elicits a sense of dread for the host nation.
Since Zaccheroni’s October 2017 appointment, the Whites have scored just four goals in 12 matches. This dull dozen includes four wins, four draws and four defeats.
Optimism about a repeat of 2015’s remarkable run to third in the previous continental tournament is at a low ebb.
Trinidad, placed 14 spots below the 77th-ranked UAE by FIFA after a period of inactivity, and Laos, currently ranked 178th, should provide both contrasting styles and easy prey for a team in need of rejuvenation.
For starters, Zaccheroni’s trademark 3-4-1-2 formation should gain vigour thanks to Abdulrahman and stellar striker Mabkhout’s reintegration. Midfielder Amer Abdulrahman, meanwhile, must build on a strong start to 2018/19 for Al Ain, which contrasts his insipid role in the Andorra debacle.
It’s always dangerous to draw conclusions after one round of fixtures, but there was enough evidence to suggest on opening weekend that the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League title race could be a keenly contested one.
Al Wahda – last season’s runners-up – plundered six goals in a 6-2 thrashing of newly promoted Ittihad Kalba. They look impressive in attack and have already secured the Arabian Gulf Super Cup – they stormed into a 3-0 lead against AGL champions and President’s Cup winners Al Ain in Cairo last week before eventually capitulating and allowing the Boss back in it, although they did still win on penalties.
Al Wasl easily dispatched Dibba Al Fujairah 3-0 with Fabio De Lima and summer signing Vinicius Lima, a fellow Brazilian, both on target.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and Al Jazira shared nine goals in a scintillating 5-4 triumph for the Pride of Abu Dhabi.
It was an encounter full of attacking zest that suggested both sides could be on the road to recovery after dismal 2017/18 campaigns.
Shabab Al Ahli seemed bogged down by off-field drama last year in what was a transitional campaign following the merger, while Jazira looked worn out by their FIFA Club World Cup exploits and a draining title-winning campaign a year earlier.
And then there is the Omar Abdulrahman-less Al Ain, who despite being shorn of their talisman, put on a show that suggested it will be business as usual, winning 3-1 at Emirates Club.
The one exception to the rule on opening day was Al Nasr – who after a stupendous summer of impressive business, slumped to a 1-0 home defeat against Ajman, last season’s surprise package.
It’s been a while since a genuine duel was fought out for the league championship – Wahda finishing seven points adrift of Al Ain last year was the narrowest gap between the champions and runners-up in eight years, since the Clarets last tasted title triumph, in 2009/10.
They went toe to toe with the Boss before a soul destroying 6-2 defeat at the beginning of March left their title challenge in tatters and saw them fall away. But they look fired up and in ferocious form in the early embers of this campaign.
After underperforming last term, we should expect Wasl’s brilliant Brazilian foreign legion to help the Cheetahs step up the pace, while Nasr are too talented – and have the shrewd and tactically astute Ivan Jovanovic guiding them – to let an opening day blip derail their bid to hoist a maiden league title in 33 years.
Shabab Al Ahli and Al Jazira’s defences will need to tighten up if they are to count themselves as serious contenders, but they both showed in their goal-laden encounter that they ooze brilliance and ballast in attack, they just need to bolt the back door shut.
And then there’s the Boss, who until someone pushes them off the top and says otherwise, remain in charge.
Strap yourselves in, 2018/19 could be epic.