The Al Nasr faithful gained both Bur Dubai pride and belief they finally possess the attacking power for a long-awaited tilt at the Arabian Gulf League-crown as Jires Kembo Ekoko inspired Monday’s 2-0 victory against Al Wasl.
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The summer signing from champions Al Ain was in inspired mood as his side made it a perfect three wins from three. The 27-year-old forward defiantly raised a fist to the sky in celebration as he opened his Blue Wave account in style, then putting on the afterburners to set-up fellow new boy Jonathan Pitroipa to seal it after the break.
The significance was lost on the angered travelling support, throwing shoes at their hosts as they celebrated the Burkina Faso winger’s strike in front of them. But victories like this show a 29-year wait to attain domestic dominance could be at an end for Ivan Jovanovic’s men, who are determined to build on 2014/15’s twin President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup successes.
“It is not easy to say what will happen,” the Serbian said. “I have been here for two years and my experience says every year the league becomes more difficult.”
Reality has bitten their neighbours hard since they opened the season with a fine 2-1 triumph at title chasers Al Jazira.
Frustration from a failed penalty appeal when Brazilian forward Caio Canedo – freshly available after he gained a Timor-Leste passport – was tripped by Ahmed Al Yassi in first-half injury time remained on coach Gabriel Calderon’s mind.
He said: “It’s difficult to lose. Maybe if we had been awarded the penalty we would have drawn the game or won. Al Wasl tried to play football, but Al Nasr didn’t.”
Kembo Ekoko was last through the door as Nasr revamped their four-player foreign quota, but he has made a quick impression. Tormented right-back Yaser Salem was given twisted blood on 20 minutes as he expertly worked space to fire home a grass-skimming rocket.
He stretched his legs again past the hour mark to charge through several challenges and tee up Pitroipa to delightfully curl home his opening Nasr goal.
The Blue Wave sat back from this point, earning the right to consolidate what they had as Caio wastefully fired in a number of efforts. On the early evidence, they will be in the 2015/16 title mix.
Stellar summer signing Lima has given deposed Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli exactly “what we missed”, according to boss Cosmin Olaroiu.
The Red Knights suffered from domestic disappointment last term after lifting the treble of the top flight, Arabian Gulf Cup and Arabian Gulf Super Cup in 2013/14.
A chronic lack of goals underpinned this descent, scoring a paltry 35 times in 26 matches as they ended a dreadful seventh.
Their €7 million (Dh28.4m) recruit from Benfica has solved this glaring issue, registering six times in his opening five matches. The latest helped the Dubai outfit through to an AFC Champions League semi-final meeting with Al Hilal and Olaroiu was confident more is to come.
“We have what we need, first of all,” the 46-year-old said. “The presence of Lima, anyone can see.
“He is exactly what we missed. Last season in the second half, we played in the group stages of the AFC Champions League, President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Super Cup and we did very well.
“In the first part of the season, we did not do very well. I do not want to say why.”
Ahli endured an abortive spell with Carlos Munoz, the Chile striker joining from Bani Yas for Dh40m plus defender Saeed Suroor in October 2014 before being deregistered in February and packed off on loan to Santiago Wanderers this summer.
Only the arrival of Lima has filled the gaping chasm left by club legend and countryman Grafite.
The Red Knights are next in action tomorrow, when they host Al Dhafra at Rashid Stadium in the AGL. The game follows yesterday’s untimely death of Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, son of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Vice President and Ruler of Dubai.
“First of all, I would like to mourn with everyone else in the UAE about the death of Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum,” said midfielder Nawaf Mubarak.
“The situation in the last period is we have reached one of our goals in the AFC Champions League, but what is coming is more difficult.”
The 3-2 victory in the Abu Dhabi derby against Al Wahda will give Al Jazira confidence as they march forward in the Arabian Gulf League title race, according to star forward Ali Mabkhout.
The UAE attacker scored the second of Jazira’s goals as the Pride of Abu Dhabi put together back-to-back league wins to get their season up and running.
The 24-year-old combined with Brazilian Thiago Neves for his goal, making an intelligent run to beat the offside trap, before collecting Neves’ pass and holding off a
defender to coolly volley past visiting goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani.
“The win against Wahda in the derby is a big result and gives us confidence,” said Mabkhout, who netted his first AGL goal of the season.
“We needed these three points because we lost to Al Wasl and the team now have good confidence to fight for the league title.”
Mabkhout, who shone for the UAE at last year’s Gulf Cup and was the leading scorer at January’s Asia Cup in Australia as the UAE finished third, was grateful to team-mate Yaser Matar, who struck the winner against Wahda.
He said: “It was a difficult game. Jazira were good in the first half and scored two goals.
“We didn’t play well in the second half, I don’t know why, and we were made to pay by Wahda who controlled the second half.
“But Yaser saved us with his goal and this gives us the win and a special feeling because we made it difficult to win.”
Up next for Abel Braga’s side is a trip to Dibba Al Fujairah on Friday.