Myung-joo extra-time winner sends Al Ain into President's Cup final

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Lee Myung-joo saved Al Ain from an embarrassing President's Cup exit.

Al Ain will struggle to believe the manner in which they stumbled into the President’s Cup final.

The six-time winners were cruising towards next Sunday’s showpiece at Bani Yas’ expense as the clock moved into the 90th minute, second-half efforts from wingers Mohamed Abdulrahman and Danilo Asprilla masking a limp display.

But by the 92nd minute, embattled coach Zlatko Dalic was looking to the sky for salvation and substituted superstar Omar Abdulrahman could not hide his disgust.

A remarkable collapse was to blame, Algeria forward Ishak Belfodil and transfer-target Amer Abdulrahman securing extra-time with a 2-2 draw. It was left to South Korea centre midfielder Lee Myung-joo to turn saviour and earn a 3-2 win, calmly slotting in to avoid full meltdown ahead of Wednesday’s high-pressure showdown against Zob Ahan for a spot in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.

On this evidence, revitalised Al Jazira will be confident they can claim silverware in a week at Zayed Sports City. These 120 seconds represented the lowest point of the malaise suffered by the UAE’s most-decorated club in 2016.

They have been steadily disintegrating since well before the loss of their Arabian Gulf League crown was assured during a toothless 1-0 defeat at eventual champions Al Ahli in early April. A club bereft of belief and desire is ambling towards a summer of change at all levels.

For Bani Yas, this should also not camouflage another season of underachievement. A squad boasting UAE metronome Amer Abdulrahman, Australia midfielder Mark Milligan and Argentine hot shot Joaquin Larrivey should have done much better than register a near-miss in the Emirates’ most-prestigious cup competition and ninth place in the top flight.

A lack of energy from both sides  at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium during a dreary opening failed to hint at the drama to come. The Sky Blues were hanging in for a shot at a second President’s Cup, before their distant hopes looked to have ended by the 86th-minute mark.

Mohamed Abdulrahman’s optimistic drive from 35 yards was flapped in by stand-in goalkeeper Mohsen Al Hashimi just past the hour, before a jinking run and low drive from frustrating Colombian wide man Asprilla appeared to have sealed a shot at glory for Al Ain.

Unfathomable disaster then struck. Belfodil first skinned left-back Saeed Mosabeh to curl home his 13th strike during a solid debut campaign, before Amer Abdulrahman headed in a parry from Larrivey’s shot to send the club he is expected to join into crisis.

The excitement couldn’t be sustained during a low-key extra-time, during which Lee was played through by 17-goal striker Douglas on 112 minutes to save the Boss’ blushes with just his ninth goal in purple.

Jazira and Zob Ahan will surely not provide such second chances.

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Mabkhout the star as Jazira dump Ahli out of President's Cup

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Al Jazira's hat-trick hero Ali Mabkhout (UAE Football Association).

If this was the last time Cosmin Olaroiu would be seen patrolling the touchline in the UAE, he leaves without a fitting ending.

Hopes of a first President’s Cup success during five years as the country’s dominant coach and a double this term with Al Ahli were killed by resurgent Al Jazira, who had a ruthlessly-taken hat-trick from 29-goal forward Ali Mabkhout to thank for their spot in next Sunday’s final.

The Pride of Abu Dhabi were everything the favourites were not during this 3-2 last-four triumph. They were biting in the tackle, concise with the ball and lethal in front of goal.

Only the Arabian Gulf League champions’ inner sanctum will know how big a role the continued doubts about their omnipotent bosses’ future played on Friday night.

When pressed on the issue after an uncharacteristically limp display at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, Olaroiu declined to further reveal his thoughts.

He tartly replied: “Any game for a coach can be the last.”

For the 46-year-old, a drop in focus in the city he managed in from 2011-13 was behind the loss.

He added: “We couldn’t do everything we wanted, didn’t play with the spirit we wanted to.

“We were close to playing the final, but we should take a look at the full season in the performances we gave. Maybe in this region when you win, a lot of things affect you.”

For the victors, a campaign headed towards an unexpected relegation in December after the disastrous re-appointment of Abel Braga now promises a happy ending under replacement Henk ten Cate. Fallen giants have risen, with Bani Yas or Al Ain now standing in the way of silverware.

“We now go to the final and will try to win it,” the 61-year-old, voice hoarse from the exertion. “If we do, it will probably be my greatest achievement as a coach.

“We scored three fantastic goals with Mabkhout. But it was a fantastic team effort, especially considering where we came from.”

Mabkhout needed a spill from UAE No1 Majed Nasser on 15 minutes to pilfer the opener, following up Thiago Neves’ tame free-kick.

It was not long before an undeserved and controversial leveller. Forward Ahmed Khalil took an age to go down under minimal contact from right-back Sultan Al Suwaidi, allowing record-buy Moussa Sow to show no mercy from the penalty spot.

Jazira refused to be downhearted and a stunning header from Mabkhout put them back in front before the break.

Daylight was earned on 56 minutes. A cutting one-two between South Korea midfielder Park Jong-woo – who set up the second with a deep free-kick – and Mabkhout ended with the latter delicately dinking over the on-rushing Nasser.

The expected siege came with only minutes left, Sow tapping in a second from a scruffy set-piece.

Jazira are not known for exhibiting a backbone, but they then held firm to gain a shot at a first trophy since the 2012 edition.

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Dubai Sports City's Spanish Soccer Schools dominate Private Academies League

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The Spanish Soccer Schools U8s were victorious.

Silverware for Spanish Soccer Schools has come in the Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 leagues, marking its dominance in youth football tournaments across the country.

The first youth league of its kind in the UAE, the Private Academies League was formed in order to provide a competitive playing stage to private youth football academies in the region.

Also involved were the Double Kick Sports Academy, the Royal Football Academy Sharjah, Sport4All Academy UAE, the TFA Academy, Tigers Soccer Academy and the Pro Sports Academy, among others.

Two academies in association with Spanish Primera Liga clubs also feature in the league: FC Barcelona Escola Dubai and the RCD Espanyol Academy in the UAE.

“Three years ago, we’d just begun our journey towards transforming football in the UAE, and we’d never thought we’d reach such heights in such a short amount of time,” said former Real Madrid and Spain legend Michel Salgado who is director of football at Football Academy, Dubai Sports City.

“For us to be included in a pilot programme by the UAE Football Association which is geared towards developing sports in the region is a huge honour.

“The Emirates have invested plenty of resources towards the development of sports, and this next step shows that there is a very high level of inclusivity here for players from all walks of life.

“I would like to thank the UAE FA for their steps in this direction, and we cannot wait to be part of other youth development opportunities that they introduce.”

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