Walter Zenga: Al Jazira and UAE star Al Khaseif is still No1 for club and country

Walter Zenga 15/03/2015
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Khaseif was in great form for Jazira on his return to football after three months.

This week was a great one for Al Jazira and their returning captain Ali Khaseif. They beat ailing Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli and saw their own hopes of lifting the title reignited after leaders Al Ain dropped points with a draw at Al Dhafra.

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I coached Khaseif at Jazira last season, and he is the best goalkeeper in the UAE. You can compare Khaseif to current Whites No1 Majed Nasser, as well as young prospects like Al Nasr’s Ahmed Mohamed Shambieh and Sharjah’s Mohamed Yousif.

He was excellent against Ahli, showing no sign he had missed the last three months because of injury and national service. His gift to the Pride of Abu Dhabi is strength and power. He is their captain and a great leader and his ability was on show when he saved a penalty from international team-mate Ahmed Khalil.

At Al Ain, rival goalkeeper Khalid Essa was on the wrong end of the goal of the week when Dhafra striker Makhete Diop scored from the half-way line. This was an incredible goal but I can tell you with all my experience from playing for Italy and Internazionale, that as a ‘keeper you know that a goal should not be conceded from that distance.

That leaves a question mark about him. The difference between the way Essa and Khaseif performed in this round is important to the title race.

Jazira also showed against Ahli that they have players who can find solutions. If the team is not playing well, they can solve the problem through invention and dribbling. These players are so important for a coach of a big club.

I said last week the battle for the league is over, but things can change. The next round is crucial.

Al Ain are ahead by four points, with their superior goal difference worth another point. Second-placed Jazira travel to Al Nasr on Sunday, and this is a very tough game for them. If they win, it can become difficult for Al Ain.

The AFC Champions League restarts this Wednesday for Al Ain, a competition that Jazira are no longer involved in. Without the ACL, you can concentrate solely on domestic games.

When I was in charge of Jazira last season, we had that tournament and the Arabian Gulf Cup as distractions at this time of the season. We played six ACL group stage matches and a round-of-16 double-header, plus the AGC semi-final and final. This is a big advantage for Jazira.

You could see this with Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic having to rotate his squad against Dhafra to maintain freshness.

We are at a very intense point. Last season, Al Wahda were free of all distractions and won their last six matches to finish second.

Jazira have a week to prepare for every AGL match now and could go on a similar run. If they can do this, anything can happen.

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AGL picks of the week: Ali Khaseif stars, Makhete Diop astounds

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Ali Khaseif (#1) made his return to football following three months out of the game.

Our Arabian Gulf League reporter Matt Monaghan decides his picks of the week in the three categories: player, goal and coach of the week.

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Player of the week
Ali Khaseif (Al Jazira)

The UAE and Pride of Abu Dhabi skipper played for the first time in three months on Thursday night, providing an unbeatable presence as a 2-0 defeat was inflicted on Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli.

Both injury and national service have kept Khaseif away, his time with the military evident in his noticeably sleeker frame.

He showed great athleticism throughout, an Ahmed Khalil penalty save the highlight.

Goal of the week
Makhete Diop (Al Dhafra)

It is evident every time you see the Senegal international that you are witnessing a player who deserves a grander stage than mid-table Dhafra can provide.

The striker registered his 100th goal for his club in breathtaking fashion, scoring from the half-way line during the 1-1 draw against leaders Al Ain.

His powerful, dipping effort left UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa with no chance.

Coach of the week
Gabriel Calderon (Al Wasl)

Calderon has drilled the Cheetahs to press hard and pass intelligently, regista Hugo Viana and Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima the stars.

Wasl put on a near-perfect display against fourth-placed Al Wahda, securing a dominant 3-0 triumph.

They are strong outsiders for May’s President’s Cup.

Tit-bits
Chance for Ali to experiment

Continuity is UAE coach Mahdi Ali’s greatest strength. But change could be forced upon him, the much-delayed Arabian Gulf Super Cup between Al Ahli and Al Ain coming towards the end of the international break between March 23-31.

And up to two-thirds of his Asian Cup squad could be engaged.

This would be great news for the likes of Al Shabab defender Mohammed Ayed, Al Nasr’s Tariq Ahmed and Bani Yas loanee Bandar Al Ahbabi.

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AGL round-up: Al Ain held by Al Dhafra, Al Shabab edge Bani Yas

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Goal of the season contender: Al Dhafra's Makhete Diop scored a spectacular goal against Al Ain.

Striker Makhete Diop scored one of the finest goals in Arabian Gulf League history as Al Dhafra held leaders Al Ain to a 1-1 draw last night.

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Diop, 26, rocketed in from the half-way line to give the hosts an 11th-minute lead.

His incredible dipped shot left UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa with no chance, the Senegal international registering his 100th goal for the Western Knights in memorable style.

It took a cruelly-deflected Jires Kembo Ekoko strike to see Al Ain level just before the hour mark. 

The Boss then piled forward in search of a winner to prevent their advantage over Al Jazira being cut to four points, though they came within inches of a damaging defeat when Iraq playmaker Humam Tariq rattled the crossbar in the fifth minute of injury time.

Meanwhile, fifth-placed Al Nasr ended a run of three consecutive top-flight draws thanks to left-back Mahmoud Khamis’ solitary strike at Fujairah.

Khamis, 27, drilled in a trademark free-kick in just the second minute to set the Blue Wave up for victory. 

Striker Ibrahima Toure then squandered a glaring chance to claim his 12th strike of a typically productive AGL campaign when he shot wide from close range, while Khaleil Khameis’ thunderous effort rattled the woodwork for the hosts.

Loanee Marion Silva opened his account for Sharjah as they were held to a 1-1 draw by third-bottom Emirates Club

The Falcons took the lead on 71 minutes through Mohamed Malalla Hassan, only for the Atletico Mineiro-owned forward to level soon after.

Shabab pile on the misery for Bani Yas

Perfect 10: Al Shabab’s Luvannor (l) scored his 10th league goal.

Pressure is continuing to mount on boss Luis Garcia after third-placed Al Shabab inflicted a fourth-successive Arabian Gulf League defeat on ailing Bani Yas.

Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor scored the only goal at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, finishing from an acute angle on 36 minutes after skipping round goalkeeper Mohsin Al Hashmi.

Spaniard Garcia was a picture of frustration on the touchline after the break, gesticulating wildly with his hands and urging his side to equalise. 

But no leveller was forthcoming, Denis Stracqualursi wasting the best chance with a limp shot from Haboush Saleh’s centre.

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