No matter the soap opera surrounding their coach, Al Ahli keep ticking along.
Friday night’s quarter-final against relegated Al Shaab – officially the worst-performing club of the professional era – proved more trying than expected. Yet the Arabian Gulf League champions characteristically managed to find a way through with a 3-1 win, maintaining their course towards a first top flight and President’s Cup double in 31 years.
Cosmin Olaroiu has declared the games about his future are on hold until his side’s run in the cup is over. It is hard to believe this won’t come after May 29’s showpiece, with the porous defence of grand entertainers Al Jazira likely to be their undoing against the UAE’s most efficient team next weekend.
Yesterday’s combatants were making acquaintances for the second time in five days. The Red Knights’ 5-0 triumph ended a glorious AGL campaign on a high before their coronation and ensured yo-yo club Shaab returned to First Division League with seven points, a record low.
A cheeky free-kick from lively Brazilian forward Ciel put Ahli ahead at Sharjah Stadium. A look up from out wide spotted goalkeeper Obaid Altawila off his line, an arched effort looping in at the far post when a cross had been expected.
Shaab heads did not drop and they were level shortly before the break. Forward Marcos De Santana got it, his header trickling in off South Korea star Kwon Kyung-won’s back.
Stephane Cusin’s revitalised side pegged their vaunted opponents back after the restart, the Brazilian, again, inches away from meeting a low cross to tee up an unforeseeable upset.
A touch of class was required to put Ahli ahead once more. 2015 AFC Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil obliged, record-buy Moussa Sow heading in an 18th goal in 32 games from his partner’s perfect cross.
The continuation of the Red Knights’ relentless push for silverware was confirmed when Ciel controversially slotted home to make it 3-1 during injury time, Brazilian striker Ze Eduardo ending up in goal for Shaab as Obaid Altawila was dismissed for dissent as he remonstrated against a quick free-kick.