Brett Holman has rejected lucrative offers from China and a return to Australia to continue his Arabian Gulf League adventure at Emirates Club.
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Holman, 31, signed a one-year deal with the Falcons yesterday after Al Nasr declined to renew their captain’s expiring contract despite leading them to a President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup double in 2014/15.
The 63-times-capped former Socceroos stalwart was in high demand, but his young family’s contentment with life in the UAE meant he wasted no time in accepting an ambitious approach from the Ras Al Khaimah-outfit who finished 10th in last term’s top flight.
Meanwhile, AGL new boys Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Shaab’s pre-season plans have accelerated after the arrival of both club’s new coaches neared.
UAE Division 1 Group A champions Dibba announced on their Twitter feed yesterday Brazilian Sergio Alexandre had been selected to lead their top-flight return after a two-year absence. He replaces Egyptian Tariq Elsayed, who drops down to the assistant role.
Meanwhile, runners-up Shaab are set to welcome Tarek El Ashry after he resigned from ENPPI. The 44-year-old announced his exit in the aftermath of Friday’s shock 4-2 Egyptian Premier League loss to Haras El Hodood, leaving The Petroleum Team second despite a recent six-match winless run.
Leading Spanish sides could be playing friendlies in the UAE from this December after the Arabian Gulf League and La Liga organising bodies signed a three-year partnership on Thursday.
Representatives from the Pro League Committee (PLC) and La Liga de Futbol Professional (LFP) joined to seal a “Memorandum of Understanding” at the UAE Football Association headquarters in Dubai, designed to strengthen ties between the nations. This marked the first such agreement signed by the Spaniards and another league.
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The deal has promised to see an exchange of ideas on all aspects of the game, including sponsorship programmes, technical workshops, youth tournaments and stadia management as well as potential non-competitive fixtures in the Emirates.
“The agreement is for three years and we wanted to benefit from management of media and courses to match organisation,” said PLC CEO Suhail Al Areefi. “The agreement will start as of today.
“We have a programme which will start right after signature, so we can benefit as much as possible.
“Of course, our clubs are always looking to communicate with such teams. Now we have means through La Liga and this agreement to start organising games in two months ahead of potentially playing in December.”
The LFP opened their first office outside of Spain two years ago in the UAE. Talks have been under way since to formalise relations between the nations.
Director general of LFP Middle East and North Africa Fernando Sanz was excited by the memorandum and believed it would benefit both parties.
He said: “I would like to thank PLC for all their efforts to reach an agreement with La Liga. We are very proud for this agreement, as well as possibility to create closer ties between these two countries which have the same passion – football.
“That said, we have a lot of work ahead to help each other in football and academy development. I insist the agreement is important for us.
“Two years ago, we opened our first office outside of Spain in the UAE. We believe in this country.
“We are a very good league, but it is always important to learn from other leagues and countries.”
As thousands of joyous Al Nasr fans surged onto the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium pitch, they celebrated President’s Cup-final success both long awaited and barely believable.
Their heroes had been second best throughout against Al Ahli and recipients of an 89th-minute own goal totally against the run of play to set the path for penalties. But it was there in which they showed the champion character instilled since coach Ivan Jovanovic’s 2013 arrival.
A 26-year wait to taste success in the UAE’s most prestigious competition ended as the Red Knights crumpled and they soared, sinking all three efforts while their opponents erred on each one.
Reward comes with a domestic double alongside January’s Arabian Gulf Cup and qualification to the AFC Champions League, though belief is the biggest take away.
“The game was balanced from both sides,” said Jovanovic, who was so overcome by proceedings he initially declared himself unable to attend the post-match press conference. “It was played on small details.
“These small details changed the psychology of game. This is what happens when you are in a final.
“The emotions are very, very strong. At the end, you play these games with heart and strong emotions.”
They had been out thought and out fought, Ahmed Khalil’s first-half opener reward for an Ahli game plan which focused on making the most of goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh’s uncertainty under the high ball.
The Blue Wave had no answer but they hung on in, taking until winger Pablo Hernandez’s blocked 73rd-minute shot to cause any real concern.
But Jovanovic argued the calibre of opponents beaten along the way made the victory a deserved one.
He said: “I believe as a team we absolutely deserved to win if you see which teams we had to qualify against – like Sharjah, [holders] Al Ain, Al Shabab and Al Ahli.
“I have to congratulate the efforts of my players. They did a big job.”
For the defeated, nightmares of winter and spring resurfaced on a punishingly-hot evening. From the torment of a dreadful Arabian Gulf League defence, Ahli had appeared transformed in recent weeks -the remarkable 3-3 draw last time out on Hazza soil against Al Ain seeing club-best progression to the ACL quarter-finals.
Coach Cosmin Olaroiu cut an increasingly-irritable presence as the match wore on, his anger seeing him eschew his press conference duties and dart for the team coach. He will hope August’s last-eight tie is enough to hold off an unlikely regime change.
His side started as they meant to go on during a game which opened with the thermometer pushing above 40C. Goal-hungry centre-back Salmeen Khamis, ex-Nasr midfielder Habib Fardan and Khalil all coming close with headers as Shambieh was bombarded from set pieces and throw-ins.
This approach to ignore the aesthetic in search of victory gained noticeable reward yesterday in the 35th minute when Shambieh was beaten to an Everton Ribeiro corner, Khalil cutting across him to flick home his fifth goal in five games.
Ahli had the lead they deserved and it was one they cherished during a second half in which the pace understandably dropped.
Chances at both ends were non-existent and there was nothing on when right-back Ahmed Al Yassi floated in a hopeful cross with two minutes left, makeshift centre-back Kwon Kyung-won inexplicably slicing into his own net before Nasr had even registered a shot on target.
Extra-time drudged by without highlight, Red Knights substitute Oussama Assaidi stumbling when the best opportunity presented itself.
The winter signing from Liverpool compounded his error, beginning the shootout with a limp saved effort. Veteran captain Luis Jimenez then lashed against the crossbar, a sad way to potentially end four years service to Ahli with his contract rapidly expiring.
Full-back Abdelaziz Sanqour shot wide, setting the stage for Ibrahima Toure to follow in Hernandez and Renan Garcia’s footsteps. The AGL’s second top scorer duly obliged, sealing a smash-and-grab win Nasr will wholeheartedly cherish.