2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil is more concerned about Al Ahli’s recent travails than whether he starts for the Arabian Gulf League-title challengers.
Khalil, 24, has begun only four games in the top-flight this term after the summer arrivals of fellow strikers Lima and €17 million (Dh81m) club-record buy Moussa Sow further restricted his opportunities.
The UAE star was a substitute again last weekend, as the 2013-14 champions suffered a damaging 2-1 loss at Bani Yas. When asked about how frustrating the situation was ahead of Saturday night’s trip to lowly Al Shaab, he unselfishly focused on the wider picture rather than personal gains.
“Yes [it is frustrating],” he replied. “But it is the coach who decides who starts and is ready for the game. The problem now is we have to win. It is not about who starts and who is on the substitutes’ bench.
“The problem is we have to win. We have to see what happens for the next round. Every game is important now. We have to continue. We have to get three points and fight.
“We have to see what are the problems, because we lost two games now. This is not a big problem, but a problem. We have to get back to winning games, like before. Inshallah, that happens.”
The setback in the capital was the Red Knights’ second in three AGL matches. Boss Cosmin Olaroiu believed he must ward against complacency to stop this run.
He said: “To meet Al Shaab will be more difficult than playing in front of Bani Yas and (leaders) Al Ain (who beat them 3-0). “At this stage, we must combine forces and in my view it will not be an easy match.
“I followed their games. We must understand they will be fighting inside their stadium, and certainly we must not look for their negative results in the past.
“We have a number of examples of clubs who did not win, but have shown great strength. I will try to find the appropriate solutions in dealing with this.”
Ahli look set for a neck-and-neck battle with champions Al Ain to lift the title. The Boss beat Emirates Club 1-0 on Friday, but Khalil did not want to get distracted by their results.
He said: “For me, I do not care about Al Ain. I care about my team. “It is important for my team to continue and win again.”
Al Nasr’s momentum in the Arabian Gulf League title race has been checked as Fujairah rallied to claim a hard-fought 1-1 draw on Friday night.
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Ivan Jovanovic’s men had seemed set to make it three wins from four games after striker Salem Saleh’s well-worked, first-half opener. But their resolute hosts refused to back down at Fujairah Stadium, a valiant display gaining reward on 76 minutes as visiting defender Mubarak Saeed headed into his own goal.
The draw moved Nasr temporarily up to second, though Ahli – the side they usurped – can go eight points clear of them if they win their three games in hand and leaders Al Ain are a huge nine points away on the same matches played.
Playmaker Luis Jimenez had already struck the crossbar from a free-kick by the time team-mate Saleh tapped in on 33 minutes. His second goal since a summer switch from Al Wahda came after a smart move between the afforementioned Chile international and winger Jonathan Pitroipa.
Mid-table Fujairah have proved tough opponents in their second AGL campaign and they earned a share of the spoils with less than 15 minutes left on the clock.
Midfielder Khalil Khameis’ whipped set-piece caused chaos at the back, Saeed erroneously flicking in as goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh failed to reach the ball in time.
Meanwhile, the Dubai derby spoils were shared as high-flyers Al Wasl and Al Shabab played out a 1-1 draw at Zabeel Stadium.
The clash between the fourth-placed hosts and fifth-placed visitors was as balanced as the table suggested. Shabab were the first to draw blood, Moldova forward Henrique Luvannor sliding in his third goal in three games at the back post.
Their lead should have been strengthened further by Brazil forward Jo, who was guilty of a string of misses.
This profligacy first looked to have been punished when Wasl forward Fabio De Lima nodded in, only for his leveller to be ruled out for a push. But he wasn’t to be denied in the 43rd minute, expertly heading in Hugo Viana’s free-kick. The game fizzled out from that point, a dull second half ending in a stalemate.
Al Ain rounded off a tremendous 2015 with a win, but they were made to fight for it at Emirates Club. The champions and Arabian Gulf League leaders showed their invaluable ability to grind out victories last night, with centre-back Ismail Ahmed popping up in the 76th minute to head home the only goal.
As his team-mates swamped the towering UAE international, a sense of relief was palpable after sinking opponents who now possess a six-match losing run.
Superstar playmaker Omar Abdulrahman was again a pivotal figure, a fine display full of invention culminating with his floating corner which teased Falcons goalkeeper Ali Saqr into a calamitious rush off the line.
A healthy 10 points is the margin to likeliest challengers Al Ahli, in third. The defeated 2015 AFC Champions League finalists possess three games in hand, yet they have been unable to demonstrate a similarly ruthless streak.
The figures for Zlatko Dalic’s men in the top flight across the year are daunting for the chasing pack. They have won 21 out of their 27 games, scored 59 goals at the cost of just 17 conceded and achieved four points more with 34 at the halfway stage than the figure registered during last term’s march to the crown.
Factor in the continued success despite the summer sale of talisman Asamoah Gyan and imminent chance to improve an already fine squad in the winter market, which opens on December 31, and their position is even more formidable.
Al Ain certainly didn’t have it all their own way at Emirates Stadium. An excellent block from UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem prevented home forward Mohamed Malalla from converting playmaker Brett Holman’s excellent pass, with only a weak header from centre forward Emmanuel Emenike – Gyan’s unconvincing replacement – threatening at the other end.
After the break, UAE No. 1 Khalid Essa saved with his legs to deny Falcons forward Rodrigo Pimpao.
Last week’s narrow 2-1 win against Fujairah scripted midfielder Lee Myung-joo as the unlikely saviour. This time, Ahmed rose highest to nod in a defining effort.