A game of few chances produced the requisite goalless stalemate as depleted Arabian Gulf League champions stared down vibrant challengers.
With many star men left on the treatment table and their worst-ever start registered in the professional era, holders Al Jazira had everything to do Friday night on home soil at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium to dampen the electric visitors of Al Wasl.
Watched on by new UAE boss Alberto Zaccheroni, a belated show of title-winning character saw the counter-attacking hosts batten the hatches in the absence of UAE hot shot Ali Mabkhout, ex-France anchorman Lassana Diarra and Co. A side with eight goals conceded in the previous four top-flight games somehow did what no others had done since April – shutout the purring Cheetahs.
Indeed, Pride of Abu Dhabi boss Henk ten Cate could hold regret if he was feeling greedy. Delightful set-pieces from Morocco metronome Mbark Boussoufa should have been headed home early on by wasteful stand-in striker Ahmed Al Attas and UAE reserve centre-back Fares Juma.
But perform like this in the defining tests to come against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and Al Ain, and they can toil their way back into the race for silverware.
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) October 20, 2017
For second-placed Wasl, this was an exhibition of Fabio De Lima’s importance. An alternative route could not be found once the six-goal forward – a figure representative of 66.6 per cent of his side’s 2017/18 AGL goals – was marked into obscurity by diligent left-back Salem Rashid.
A meeting between last term’s shock runaway winners and opponents who stunningly surged from nowhere to runners-up under regenerative Argentine Rodolfo Arruabarrena could have produced a classic.
There was no sign of this ever being the case as the weakened home side sat deep and challenged Wasl to break them down.
Ahmed Al Attas wasted presentable chances with head and foot. At the other end untested UAE No1 Ali Khaseif had time to count all 7,311 attendees in the stands.
It was that sort of encounter.
Know more about Sport360 Application