Al Jazira climbed up to second with a 1-0 win over Al Shabab in Abu Dhabi on Friday night.
Walter Zenga’s men took the lead in first-half injury time as Shin Hyung- Min powered a header beyond Ismail Rabee in the Shabab goal. Substitute Essa Obaid missed a chance to equalise in the second half before Ali Khaseif saw Carlos Villanueva’s low shot come back off a post after bouncing off him.
The UAE No1 was then called into action to tip an Edgar Bruno header over the bar, with Jazira hanging onfor a precious win that takes them above their visitors and sees them close the gap to Al Ahli at the top of the table to just four points.
The result means Jazira have now gone eight Arabian Gulf League games without defeat, picking up 20 points in the process, since losing 2-1 at home to Al Nasr at the end of November.
Elsewhere, Al Wasl handed debuts to both Ricardo Oliveira andSaeed Al Kathiri, but it was another striker, Mohamed Nasr, that struck as they beat Al Shaab 1-0.
Nasr struck his seventh league goal of the season with less than five minutes remaining at the Zabeel Stadium to seal the win and edge ahead of Ali Mabkhout as the league’s most prolific Emirati.
With the victory Wasl moved up to 10th, just four points off fifthplaced Bani Yas, but coach Hector Cuper was not totally happy with the performance.
“If I am honest, this is one of the worst matches we have played this season, but we managed to get three points and that is the most important thing,” he said.
“We made too many mistakes and the players were not playing for each other as a team. They were playing with their heart and not using their mind.”
In the day’s other kick-off, Sharjah beat bottom club Ajman 2-1 – the Orange Brigade’s ninth defeat of the season.
Fellype Gabriel opened the scoring in the 20th minute before Ze Carlos made it two before the break. Ismael Al Jasmi pulled a goal back with 13 minutes left and the home side were made to brave 10 anxious minutes after Ze Carlos was given his marching orders.
Sharjah held on for victory, though, and remain fourth.
Al Ain were denied the start to life in their new home they craved as Makhete Diop’s late strike ensured they were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Dhafra.
The Boss were by far the better side and despite a nervy evening in front of goal appeared to have secured a winning start at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium when Ismail Ahmed headed them in front with 15 minutes remaining.
However, Diop made them pay for their profligacy with a well-placed header of his own before Ahmed was denied an injury time winner by an offside flag that should never have gone up.
The result was another setback in what has been a frustrating season under Quique Sanchez Flores, and while the visitors celebrated on the pitch the home supporters were forced to trudge to the exits in disbelief.
They had arrived, in their thousands, to check out their team’s dazzling new home, with the result considered a formality. Indeed many had not been able to take their seats as the game got under way.
Those who trickled in during the first half were at least not made to miss the stadium’s first ever goal, largely due to efforts – often theatrical – of Dhafra ‘keeper Mohammad Ghuloom.
The former Bani Yas custodian was his usual colourful self, failing to ever look entirely comfortable while keeping out goal-bound efforts from Omar Abdulrahman, Mirel Radoi, Ibrahim Diaky and Gyan.
On the two occasions that Ghuloom was beaten in the first half, his team-mates came to his aid with both Hasan Al Hamadi and Bilal Najjarine clearing off the line.
Dhafra offered very little going forward in the opening 45 minutes, but they could easily have found themselves a player down in the opening 20 minutes as Abbas stamped on Abdulrahman as the playmaker lay prone on the ground.
While the former Al Jazira midfielder could argue he was merely trying to hurdle the UAE star, there was no real attempt to get out of his way.
The ground staff might just have been happy Abbas didn’t make contact with the pitch, which needed a great deal of attention at the break.
Sanchez Flores handed Yassine El Ghanassy, signed from Gent on Thursday, an Arabian Gulf League debut at the beginning of the second half, and he wasted little time in showing his new fans what he could do.
The Belgium international almost scored his first Al Ain goal within 10 minutes of coming on, but saw his effort blocked by Mohammad Qassim after some excellent hold-up play from Gyan.
Moments later the forward wriggled into the box, only to flash a drive into the side netting before Ghuloom did well to get his body behind a curling effort from the edge of the box.
With the game ticking into its final 20 minutes, the crowd began to get nervy. However, driven on by Radoi – playing what appears to be his final game for the club – Al Ain refused to take their foot off the gas and were rewarded with just over 15 minutes left as Ahmed rose to head home an Abdulrahman corner.
The goal was met by a deafening roar, but the sense of relief and celebration that met Ahmed’s opener turned to dispair with five minutes left as Diop nodded Abdullah Abdulqader’s cross past Khalid Essa.
Gyan fired wide from a good position before Ahmed was denied a second goal with less than 30 seconds left.
Al Ain open their new Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Friday by welcoming Al Dhafra in a crucial encounter.
A patchy start to the season has seen the two-time champions slip behind Al Dhafra, who were only promoted last season. Al Ain will hope for some inspiration from their new surroundings in the 25,000-capacity stadium’s first competitive match.
Midfielder Bakary Sare, who joined from Dinamo Zagreb this week, should play some part in the game after Michel Bastos joined Roma on loan.
Elsewhere, Al Wahda go into Thursday’s clash with Emirates Club shorn of international talent.
The Excellencies will be without Damien Diaz, Marco Estrada and Hussein Fadel for their tricky trip to Ras Al Khaimah.
Emirates Club have picked up just 12 points this season but Al Wahda coach Jose Peseiro has reminded his troops that giant killings have become common.
Peseiro said: “Players some times relaxed when they are up against socalled small clubs and it is my job to make sure that they know winning is the most important thing.”
Elsewhere, Bani Yas take on Dubai Club at home looking to shoot up the overcrowded middle pack, while Dubai Club will want a swift return out of the relegation zone.
Sharjah take on Ajman while Al Wasl will be looking to get a much needed win against Al Shaab.