Bani Yas’ four-game Arabian Gulf League losing streak came to an end last night, but this was a painful way to do it.
A first victory since February 8 seemed certain after winter signing Imad Khalili opened his account for the club to put them 2-1 up against resurgent Al Wasl. Injury time then only had to be seen out, this proving beyond their fragile capabilities as Ederson struck past 90 minutes to secure a 2-2 draw.
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Fortune had previously shined on the struggling hosts, a leveller from a highly-debatable penalty plus unfathomable misses from Ederson and Fabio De Lima making victory appear preordained.
Sky Blues boss Luis Garcia has been gifted uncharacteristic patience from an outfit famed for dispensing with coaches, nine previous changes being recorded from 2008/09. The ex-Getafe and Levante chief has been publicly backed to be in charge next term regardless of results, though validation is required.
“We kept the win until the last minute then we lost it,” a visibly-deflated Garcia said. “I do not have more words to give.
“We were not successful in the first half, but after the break we performed better on the counter-attack. Between me and my new win was one minute.”
Opponents Wasl could now drop six points off the top four with six games to play if Al Wahda beat second-bottom Ajman this evening. But boss Gabriel Calderon’s ambition to crash the Asian qualification spots remained undiminished.
“For me, this match was minimum a draw for Al Wasl even though we gave up many opportunities,” said Calderon, who enjoyed a successful spell in charge of the Sky Blues in 2011/12. “The level for Wasl is the top four, but the players need to play the same way every game."
Wasl began with typical swagger in Abu Dhabi, forward Caio Canedo taking their Brazilian trio’s AGL tally to 31 this term when firing in low after De Lima’s devilish through-ball bamboozled defender Angel Dealbert.
Doubt was clear on the Bani Yas players’ faces; a solution from elsewhere was required. It duly came when referee Omar Mohamed Al Ali staggeringly pointed to the spot when goalkeeper Yousif Abdulla’s momentum innocently took him into Bandar Al Ahbabi following an errant chip.
Influential playmaker Joan Verdu held his nerve to stroke home his sixth penalty of the season.
Luck then proved vital for the hosts. A frantic end to the first half saw De Lima fire over from three yards and Ederson head into the post from equally-close range.
Bani Yas improved in the second half, Swedish substitute Khalili putting them ahead on 70 minutes when lashing in on the half-volley from Verdu’s delicate pass.
Disappointment lay around the corner, however. Central midfielder Hugo Viana had a hand in everything good for the visitors, his incisive pass from the edge of the area sending Ederson clear to crush Garcia and his players with a low first-time finish.
Coach Luis Garcia is convinced better days lie ahead for floundering Bani Yas as he attempts to snap a four-match losing streak in the Arabian Gulf League tonight.
The Sky Blues have slumped down to eighth, conceding 12 goals during a painful run of defeats. Question marks had arisen about the Spaniard’s position after the previous reversal at Al Shabab last Friday, but the club hierarchy moved quickly to insist he will be in situ next term regardless.
This long-term show of faith will be tested again this evening when red-hot Al Wasl travel to Abu Dhabi.
Led by ex-Bani Yas boss Gabriel Calderon, the Cheetahs have surged up to sixth spot during a stellar spell which began with a 4-0 thrashing of AGL champions Al Ahli on February 13.
The two sides could hardly be in more contrasting form, the visitors taking 10 points from the last available 12.
But Garcia remained undaunted, insisting his troops will come out of their slump a stronger outfit. He said: ”We were fifth in the league [in December] and achieved good results and wins. We got to the semi-finals of the Arabian Gulf Cup, but we are now in the presence of a difficult phase.
“It will end soon, the bad luck as you have seen. But we still have time to work and build the foundation of a new strong team for the next season.”
Bani Yas renewed confidence in Garcia pic.twitter.com/aXjTRConYR
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGL_Sports) March 15, 2015
Wasl’s steady upturn since Calderon took the reins in October has accelerated since regista Hugo Viana was finally able to make his long-delayed debut following three months of bureaucratic problems.
The Portugal international’s presence has helped forward Fabio De Lima blossom, the Brazilian’s eight goals in his last four games making him the division’s in-form player.
Calderon has spoken boldly of crashing the top four and securing continental qualification, remaining on message in his pre-match press conference.
“There are no easy games, and we have to be fully serious if we want to win at Bani Yas,” said Calderon, who led the Sky Blues to the AFC Champions League knockout stage for the first time during a successful spell in charge between November 2011 and May 2012.
“Our ambition is to reach the first four places and participate in Asian competition, for this every game remaining is a final for us.”
Meanwhile, third-placed Shabab will look to keep up the pressure on the leaders when they make the short trip to Sharjah. This should not be a walkover for Caio Junior’s men, the rapidly improving King’s 1-1 draw against Emirates Club last time out ending a three-match winning streak.
“With Shabab, it is always a difficult match,” said Sharjah boss Paulo Bonamigo, who lifted both the GCC Club Cup and AGC while in charge of his imminent opponents from 2009-12.
“We are suffering from a number of absences, but this will not prevent us from playing in the same balanced way. Shabab have performed at a fixed level, playing well since the start of the season.”
The day’s final fixture sees thirdbottom Fujairah attempt to end any lingering relegation worries when they travel to last-placed Ittihad Kalba.
Al Ain are back on track to secure progression to the Champions League round of 16 following last night’s impressive 1-0 win at Uzbekistan giants Pakhtakor, according to coach Zlatko Dalic.
Last year’s semi-finalists performed astoundingly in Tashkent, defying the enforced absence of star pair Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman as well as goalscorer Miroslav Stoch’s sending off to prevail. The Slovakia winger rocketed in the only goal from the edge of the box in style, but was dismissed with 15 minutes still to play following an off-the-ball incident.
His team-mates dug in admirably, victory securing top spot in Group B at the half-way stage with two of the three subsequent fixtures to be played at home.
“The most important thing was the victory. We had four or five good chances to score but we didn’t take them,” said Dalic, whose side will host the Uzbeks at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in three weeks’ time.
“We won the match and collected three points which I hope will help us qualify for the next stage.
“Stoch made a big mistake as our team had to play almost 20 minutes without him. We should respect our opponents and the referees.”
Al Ain excelled throughout against the previous pool leaders. Forward Jires Kembo Ekoko put in a typical display, his pace causing problems only for his finishing to be wayward. The ex-Rennes star recorded a particularly glaring miss in the 10th minute, shooting wildly over when played clean through by defender Ismail Ahmed.
Naft Tehran blew Group B wide open after late goals from Amir Motahhari and Leandro Padovani against Al Shabab Riyadh saw them secure a memorable first-ever AFC Champions League victory.
The come-from-behind triumph ensured Al Ain finished the round in top spot on five points, one ahead of Naft and Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor.
The Iranians had looked on course for a second defeat in three matches when visiting striker Naif Hazazi converted a 43rd-minute penalty. Naft’s attempts to strike back appeared to be headed for disappointment only for substitute Motahhari to volley in superbly with only four minutes remaining.
Manager Ali Reza Mansourian’s troops continued to push and they were rewarded in fine style when Brazilian defender Padovani headed in just before injury time.
The result left Shabab bottom on two points, victory in the return fixture a must in three weeks.