Al Ain will continue to reap benefits from the “genuine feelings of joy” experienced by Hussein El Shahat after his stellar first month was rewarded with a chance to gatecrash Egypt‘s World Cup 2018 squad.
El Shahat, 26, rocketed in a hat-trick during Saturday’s 7-0 demolition of promoted Ajman. This saw the midfielder move onto an incredible five goals and four assists for the Arabian Gulf League title chasers since a deadline-day loan switch from Misr lel-Makasa.
Such fine form has not gone unnoticed by his native country, who are preparing for a first appearances in 28 years at the finals. Impressed Pharaohs coach Hector Cuper this week handed the player – who last year featured in two unofficial friendlies – a spot in March’s training camp in Switzerland, alongside the likes of Liverpool superstar Mohamed Salah.
“Sometimes it is very difficult to find suitable words to express the genuine feelings of joy,” El Shahat told his club’s website ahead of Thursday’s visit by Emirates Club. “The call I received meant a lot since joining Egypt’s national team is a great dream, especially as we are on the verge of our official participation in the World Cup.”
Breaking free of mid-table Misr did not prove easy after scoring nine goals in the 2017/18 Egyptian Premier League.
El Shahat said: “Two offers submitted by Egypt’s Al Ahly and Zamalek were rejected.
“However, when the club’s chairman, Mohamed Abdul Salam, who considers all the players as his sons, told me about the offer made by Al Ain I did not hesitate. I did confirm explicitly that I have the desire to enter into a professional experience as a gateway for me to join the international list.”
Elsewhere, bottom-placed Al Dhafra could be cut adrift if fellow strugglers Dibba Al Fujairah inflict a ninth defeat in 16 matches.
On Friday, returning coach Ivan Jovanovic will aim for a perfect third victory in three games when Al Nasr travel to Ajman. Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club won for the first time since October 14 last time out in the AGL, and now face Sharjah.
Reigning top scorer Ali Mabkhout will miss the trip to Zabeel Stadium with the Pride of Abu Dhabi after an appeal was rejected on Sunday against the controversial four-match domestic ban accrued on UAE duty for breaking curfew. Their opponents will need to manage both the psychological damage incurred during the epic 4-3 defeat last time out at second-placed Al Wahda, plus the absence of 12-goal Brazilian striker Caio Canedo through a suspension of his own.
Speaking before the clash, Jazira assistant coach Harry Decheiver was intrigued to see how the situation would play out.
He said: “Our physical and mental readiness for this important and difficult meeting in the league is key as Ali Mabkhout will be absent from the match because of the suspension issued by the UAE Football Association.
“The absence of Caio will certainly affect them, but the situation is similar to Jazira. There will be no advantage for either team at the expense of the other in this area.
“Overall, the team’s attack includes players like Ahmed Al Attas and Zayed Al Ameri. We have confidence in their ability to compensate.”
Burgeoning UAE prospect Al Attas, 22, is most likely to lead the line. His tally of five goals in 10 AGL games is already the best of his nascent career.
Jazira stormed to the top-flight crown in 2017/18, but Yasser Al Juneibi’s stunning own goal – which has gone viral across the globe – helped end a four-match winless streak last time out against bottom-placed Al Dhafra.
Meanwhile, Moroccan forward Mourad Batna has declared championship chasers Wahda cannot spare struggling Hatta.
The Clarets survived two red cards and an injury-time penalty to edge their classic meeting with Wasl. A different challenge will be poised by Hatta, for whom a fine 3-1 win at Sharjah last week saw them edge away from the drop zone.
“We have to focus during the meeting, record as many goals as possible and not squander any opportunities,” said Batna.
A fourth win in a row will put Wahda top, ahead of Al Ain’s match against Emirates Club on Thursday.
Here, we compare his record to the leading scorers since the competition turned professional at the start of 2008/09:
Club(s): Al Jazira
Games per goal: 1.52
Mabkhout has grown from a wasteful prospect into the best indigenous goal scorer in Asia’s major leagues. At just 27, there are many more to come.
Club(s): Al Ain, Al Ahli (loan)
Games per goal: 0.96
The African joined in his prime, before injuries took their toll; 95 of his goals came at Al Ain from 2011-15 and just six more followed on loan at Al Ahli in 2016/17.
Club(s): Al Wahda
Games per goal: 1.06
There is no great grace to the Argentine striker’s game. He’s simply a relentless scorer of goals. Is showing no signs of slowing down at 32-years old.
Club(s): Al Dhafra, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club
Games per goal: 1.4
The giant Senegalese’s tally would be even more impressive if he’d not loyally spent nearly five years at lowly Dhafra.
FABIO DE LIMA
Club(s): Al Wasl
Games per goal: 1.17
It is not just the volume which impresses about the brilliant Brazilian, it’s also the variety. Long-range or tap-ins, free-kicks or headers, he does it all.