Midfielder Habib Fardan’s return to Al Nasr is up and running after his second-half double ensured a 4-1 victory against Al Dhafra in the Arabian Gulf Cup.
Fardan, 28, has barely featured for the Blue Wave since his protracted return from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club – after four years away – was finally completed last month. But the former UAE regular showcased his class on Sunday night as the qualified Group B-pacesetters continued their 100-per-cent record.
Forward Mohamed Ibrahim got the ball rolling on five minutes with a powerful effort from distance, before visiting midfielder Diogo soon levelled up from Khalid Butti’s cross.
Brazilian forward Samuel Rosa’s deflected shot then restored Nasr’s advantage on 18 minutes.
Just before the hour mark, Fardan converted a penalty for his first goal in blue for more than 1,050 days. A slotted late finish then completed the rout.
In the pool’s other games, a goalless draw meant nothing to qualified Al Ain but tempered Emirates Club’s quarter-final ambitions.
French midfielder Omar Kossoko’s 89th-minute long-range rocket earned a valuable 3-2 win for Fujairah and kept Arabian Gulf League-leaders Sharjah pointless in the Cup.
Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is happy he can keep looking to the future when his qualified side’s group-stage commitments in the Arabian Gulf Cup wind up against Emirates Club.
In the absence of a sizeable international cohort, the Boss have selected promising youngsters such as centre-back Saeed Juma and forward Mohd Khalfan throughout a successful Group B-campaign. But underutilised players such as Egypt-born midfielder Mohamed Fathy should now get a fresh chance to impress, against opponents who must win to stand a realistic chance of progression to the quarter-finals.
“Since the competition’s start, our goal was to provide a decent performance,” said Mamic.
“We will definitely now choose a number of players who’ve not had a chance to participate in the Arabian Gulf Cup. This will help them show their potential.”
Meanwhile, Al Wahda completed a near-perfect Group A-campaign as they beat Al-Ittihad Kalba 2-0. The Clarets finished as comfortable group winners having gone unbeaten without conceding a single goal in their six matches.
Caio’s brace led Al Wasl to a convincing 4-2 victory over Dibba, taking them to fourth place with seven points.
Al Ahli on the other hand climbed to second spot in Group A courtesy of match-winner Henrique Luvannor who struck twice in a 2-1 win over now third-placed Baniyas.
The UAE’s troublesome preparations for hosting January 2019’s Asian Cup have continued after a goalless draw with Bolivia made it one win from their last nine matches.
This, continued, unpropitious run of form should deeply concern coach Alberto Zaccheroni and his UAE Football Association paymasters. It was not all negatives, however, on Friday at Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium.
Here are the talking points:
WHAT THEY’D GIVE FOR A GOAL
In little more than a year under Zaccheroni’s care, the Whites have rarely been a good watch.
In Dubai this weekend though, there was an ebullience and physicality apparent that has been, often, glaringly absent. A tournament-ending injury to 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman is a cruel blow, yet this month’s unavailability of playmakers Khalfan Mubarak and Rayan Yaslam allowed for an injection of raw pace.
In the middle of the 4-3-3 formation, Al Ain’s Amer Abdulrahman (more on him later) rocked the crossbar with a thunderous volley and Al Wasl’s Khamis Esmail embarrassingly miscued with the goal at his mercy. On the flanks, Shabab Al Ahi’s Ismail Al Hammadi and Sharjah’s Saif Rashid provided an injection of energy.
It is now incumbent on striker Ali Mabkhout – who went closest with a second-half header – to replicate his unflinching club form. It’s now just two goals in his last seven international run-outs – both coming in September’s rout of minnows Laos.
WHERE IS THE CROWD?
A friendly with Bolivia, officially South America’s worst team in World Cup 2018 qualifying, would always struggle to get the pulse racing.
But this cannot fully excuse or explain thousands of empty seats this weekend.
A return of eight goals in Zaccheroni’s 16 matches doesn’t help. Neither does Amoory’s injury.
Both Emiratis and expatriates are needed to buy into next year’s event. Organisers should be concerned ahead of January 5’s big kick-off versus Bahrain.
This was far from a perfect display by the UAE.
Dealing with the high ball remained an issue and Bolivia substitute Jhasmani Campos struck the base of the post at the death.
But the performance of Amer Abdulrahman was a real plus. In the first half alone, he hit the woodwork and cleared off his own line.
This was a demonstration of grasping responsibility freed up by Omar Abdulrahman’s – no relation – absence.