After a round five in the Arabian Gulf League which produced few goals but plenty of intrigue, here are Sport360°’s men that shone and the key issues which arose.
Essa Santo (Sharjah)
Lining up against players he called team-mates during the last three terms, Santo’s experience was key to Sharjah’s spirited draw versus Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
This knowledge must be leaned on by new coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari.
Rayan Yaslam (Al Ain)
The production line at Al Ain continues to churn out talent.
The 22-year-old was in the perfect place to sweep in after a flowing move, cue paternal celebrations from the elder squad members.
Coach Zoran Mamic’s faith in youth is a winning policy.
Ayman El Ramady (Ajman)
At the fifth time of asking, Ajman are finally off the mark after they beat a Wanderley-less Al Nasr 1-0.
El Ramady deserves extra credit for the fact his side did not sink after losing from 2-0 up against Al Ain last week.
Pride comes before a fall
The urge to meddle is often an overwhelming feeling in AGL boardrooms. Al Jazira were runaway champions last season. Yet rather than continuation, only Mbark Boussoufa remains from their four-player foreign quota.
A forced change to a curious 4-4-2 has followed, as well as a worst-ever start in the professional era.
Henk ten Cate slammed a pair of new boys after the 0-0 draw with Al Wasl, but he needs to reserve some of this ire for his busy overlords.
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.
Former AC Milan, Lazio, Juventus and Japan boss Alberto Zaccheroni was officially announced on Monday as the person who will lead the UAE on home soil at January 2019’s Asian Cup.
Zaccheroni, 64, will be unveiled to media this afternoon after he inked a 16-month deal – with an option to renew – worth approximately $2.5 million to replace Edgardo Bauza. The Argentine shockingly defected to World Cup 2018 qualifiers Saudi Arabia in September after only three mixed competitive matches.
This announcement brought an end to an exhaustive search which witnessed more than 20 different options being studied. Availability was key to the new man being hired, the UAE Football Association not willing to wait for Ricardo Gareca of Peru and Jorge Luis Pinto of Honduras who are preparing for next month’s inter-confederation play-offs – which could lead to participation during the global extravaganza in Russia.
Tributes from lauded fellow Italians such as current and former Al Nasr tacticians Cesare Prandelli and Walter Zenga, plus the iconic Fabio Capello, helped convince the Whites board of Zaccheroni’s merits. His recent four-year spell at Japan also added weight, during which he won the 2011 Asian Cup and departed in the aftermath of a group-stage exit at World Cup 2014.
— uaefa (@uaefa_ae) October 16, 2017
An initial offer was rejected last week by the 1998/99 Serie A winner with Milan. But a breakthrough in talks caused him to jet into Dubai airport late on Saturday night.
Zaccheroni was last employed by Beijing Guoan. He was sacked in May 2016 after five miserable months saw the club’s worst-ever start to the Chinese Super League recorded, this period including just two wins in nine fixtures.
With no World Cup ahead, Zaccheroni will concentrate on the upcoming continental competition. UAE FA president Marwan bin Ghalita has publicly targeted a minimum run to the final.
The UAE were ranked 72nd by FIFA on Monday, good enough only to be the seventh-best team in Asia.
The Whites will meet up early next month, ahead of a friendly at home to World Cup entrants Egypt on November 9. A second fixture is yet to be arranged.