Sharjah failed to fully capitalise on reigning champions Al Ain’s thrashing in ‘Al Clasico’ on Wednesday but did still take a step closer to a coveted maiden Arabian Gulf League title in 23 years with a 0-0 draw at Ajman.
Keeper Adel Al Hosani impressed on Thursday night as the King escaped with a 0-0 draw against the Orange Brigade at Rashid bin Saeed Stadium.
The first chance of the game fell to Ajman’s Stanley Nka in the second minute, as he fired a powerful effort that was saved by the Sharjah stopper.
Midway through the first half, Sharjah started to control possession but failed to pose any real threat. Very few chances were created in the rest of the first half, as both teams headed into the break deadlocked at 0-0.
Ajman’s Mame Thiam came close to finding the back of the net just three minutes after the restart, however his close-range header was brilliantly saved by Al Hosani. Stanley was then denied again after going one-on-one with Al Hosani on the hour mark.
Eighth-placed Ajman’s pressure continued and the visitors were indebted to forward Welliton who pulled off a goal-line stop to keep the game goalless.
Ajman kept pushing until the final minutes of the game, hoping to inflict a first defeat of the season on the champions elect, but Al Hosani continued to impress as he saved Hussain Abdulrahman’s powerful effort in injury time to keep a clean sheet.
It was a fifth draw for the King who are the only unbeaten side left in the league, Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s men searching for their first title since 1995/96.
They are now nine points above second-placed Al Ain – demolished 5-1 on Wednesday by rampant Al Jazira – with seven games remaining.
In the night’s other game, Al Wahda and Al Dhafra also shared the points in a 1-1 draw in the Western Region.
Yahya Al Ghassani’s opener was cancelled out by Suhail Almansoori’s goal as Wahda stayed fifth with Dhafra moving above Ajman into seventh.
The Western Knights were controlling the possession in the early phases of the first half at Hamdan bin Zayed Stadium, but without posing threat to Wahda’s goal.
But the Clarets broke the deadlock around the 15-minute mark, thanks to Al Ghassani’s goal.
⏱ | FT: @AjmanClub 0-0 @SharjahFC. #AGLeague— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) 4 April 2019
Winner: Adel and Ali's mother, she wouldn't be happy to see any of her kids deated 👵@AjmanClub and @SharjahFC share the game points. pic.twitter.com/izgM2i4qBr
Veteran UAE international Ismail Matar’s free-kick was brilliantly saved by Dhafra keeper Khaled Al Senaani, but the rebound fell to Sebastian Tagliabue who fed Al Ghassani to tap home.
The hosts levelled 10 minutes before the break. Capitalising on a defensive mistake from, Suhail Al Mansoori found the ball inside the box and slotted home past helpless Mohamed Al Shamsi.
In the second half, the hosts relied on counter-attacks, while the guests put more pressure on the home side’s defence.
Tagliabue’s effort on the hour missed the target, before Al Mansoori went close. With 12 minutes to go, Rim Chang-woo found Tagliabue’s headed ball but his effort went inches wide.
Wahda substitute Ahmed Ali came close to netting the winner in the dying minutes. However, his first effort hit the woodwork and his second attempt sailed over the goal.
Jazira were utterly rampant in the capital as they tore the champions – lying in second place in the Arabian Gulf League table, four points ahead of them prior to kick-off – to shreds in a ruthless display.
The hosts could not have asked for a better start to the clash with Ernest Asante opening the scoring in the third minute after being set up by Ali Mabkhout, who then doubled the lead just before the half-hour mark.
Former Arsenal academy prospect Nacer Barazite, who had replaced the excellent, injured Khalfan Mubarak, and earlier saw an effort ruled out for offside, made amends when he received Mabkhout’s pass and curled home superbly beyond Khalid Essa.
The Boss reduced the deficit before the break through Ismail Ahmed’s bullet header but that was as good as it got for the visitors, and the home fans were again celebrating early in the second half when Asante latched on to Sebastian Siani’s through ball before curling another fine finish past Essa. Barazite then returned the favour to Mabkhout to make it 5-1 for the Pride of Abu Dhabi on a night that will live long in the memory of their fans.
The result, which saw Jazira reclaim third place and go to within a point of Al Ain, ensured they completed the league double over the Garden City side, and Hertog was delighted with what he saw.
“I am delighted and very proud of my team for the way they played,” said Hertog during the post-match press conference.
“We played excellent football and created many chances against a very good side. We did our homework on Al Ain and the players executed the plans perfectly. I must compliment my players on their outstanding performance as it was a much deserved victory.
“Every single player did fantastic and am pleased with all of them. This will give us a lot of confidence for the next game.”
He added: “I am also happy that we had young players like Mohammed Al Attas, Abdalla Ramadan and Khalifa Al Hammadi, who gave their best. They showed they can play at the top level in this league and it’s great to see them develop.”
Despite claiming the three points, Mubarak, Al Attas and Ramadan all suffered injuries and Hertog is hopeful the trio can feature again this season.
“We have to wait and see,” he said. “Khalfan could be out for a couple of weeks while Al Attas and Ramadan should be fit soon. We have had injuries before but this is part of football and gives other players in the team to play.”
Jazira will play their next match away to Ittihad Kalba on April 13.
An Al Clasico for the ages, well from victors Al Jazira’s point of view it certainly was. The ravenous hosts ripped Al Ain apart in a dominant performance that begged the question – how have they become so far removed from the Arabian Gulf League title picture in recent weeks?
The Pride of Abu Dhabi prevailed in the biggest game in UAE club football, and it was a victory that never looked in doubt once they roared into the lead after just three minutes.
Khalfan Mubarak sliced apart the Boss at the back, his defence-splitting ball reaching Ali Mabkhout. The UAE marvel composed himself before teeing up the onrushing Ernest Asante, who checked his run before firing low beyond Khalid Essa.
It was 2-0 after 28 minutes when Mabkhout – who had minutes earlier wasted a glorious opportunity – converted a far more difficult chance after being teed up by Mubarak.
Even when he hobbled off with a pulled hamstring, Jazira continued their dominance, replacement Nacer Barazite curling high beyond Essa after more good movement from Mabkhout.
Ismail Ahmed’s thumping free header from a corner gave the Boss a glimmer of hope before the break, but three minutes into the second half, the hosts’ three-goal advantage was restored when Asante reached another laser beam throughball from Sebastien Siani, neatly nutmegging Mohanad Salem before firing past Essa.
Mabkhout rounded off the scoring when Barazite returned the favour from him to sweep home his second.
An ‘Al Clasico’ that was full of class from Jazira, but one steeped in calamity for Al Ain. Here’s our take:
MISFIRING MABKHOUT ANSWERS HIS CRITICS
Such is the esteem Ali Mabkhout is held in by Jazira fans and those who generally watch UAE club and international football – the prolific striker is considered in a slump when he’s scored ONLY three goals in last six games.
But after the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s title hopes effectively disappeared following defeat to Sharjah on Friday, the striker, who went scoreless, came in for criticism. He answered those critics in sumptuous style with a man-of-the match performance here – bagging two goals and also creating two.
Mabkhout was instrumental in the opener, an intelligent run attracted Mubarak’s attention and he released his UAE colleague. He held it up carefully and teed up Asante to fire in. The dissenting voices might have grown louder when he missed a guilt-edged chance to make it 2-0, racing onto another sublime throughball from Abdalla Ramadan. He skewed his shot horribly wide when a player of his ilk and deadly finishing ability would gobble up that chance normally.
Minutes later though he stylishly doubled Jazira’s lead and in far more difficult fashion. Mubarak was again the architect – his laser beam vision spotted the run of Mabkhout who although got a slice of fortune when the ball ricocheted between the legs of Ismail Ahmed, was clinical as he dummied Mohanad Salem before opening up and curling high beyond Khalid Essa.
He then teed up Barazite for a third goal but luckily VAR came to Al Ain’s rescue. As if seething because of that, the same duo combined minutes later to put Jazira 3-1 up. They cut through the Boss at will with Mabkhout slipping in Barazite who curled into motionless Essa’s bottom corner.
As their dominance continued after the break, Mabkhout then rounded off an emphatic win when Barazite returned the favour for him to sweep in a fifth.
His double took him level with Al Wahda’s Sebastian Tagliabue atop the AGL’s leading scorers chart. Some slump he’s enduring.
AL AIN ELITE ON A RAPID DECLINE
One of the most one-sided ‘Al Clasicos’ in Arabian Gulf League history was bookmarked by a rampaging performance from Jazira’s rising young stars as Al Ain’s established elite continued to display worrying signs of decline.
Veteran Sweden striker Marcus Berg – who appeared at both Euro 2016 and last summer’s World Cup in Russia – must have been licking his lips when he read the names on the Jazira teamsheet and saw a back four containing 21-year-old Mohammed Al Attas and 20-year-old Khalifa Al Hammadi in central defence.
The 6ft powerhouse might have been anticipating a field day in front of goal, but in truth the lack of cohesiveness behind him led to him being isolated all match and starved of service as the speed and energy in Jazira’s pressing and overall game left Al Ain’s midfield constantly chasing shadows and their creaking defence splitting wide open at the seams.
While youthful exuberance in Jazira’s defence should ordinarily have led to the Boss enjoying superiority, it was the worryingly rapid decline of Al Ain stalwarts Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem that should cause the most consternation.
The celebrated duo that have been an iconic fixture of the UAE senior team for the best part of the last decade have shown plenty of signs of decline in the last 12 months or so. But whereas they have come back to defy their critics on more than one occasion – Ahmed’s goal threatened to do so once again – the ease at which they were opened up time and time again by Jazira’s relentless and ruthless forays forward should set alarm bells ring around the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Ahmed is 35, Salem 34. Bandar Al Ahbabi, at right-back, is 29, as is Mohammed Fayez. The central defensive duo – long considered rocks – are now ramshackle. It is time for new seeds to be sown in the Garden City.
PRIDE OF ABU DHABI SHOULD BE JAZZED BY THEIR FUTURE
The championing of Al Jazira’s academy is no secret, they have long been one of the few UAE clubs to truly push their emerging stars into the limelight.
It is a strategy that former coach Henk ten Cate relentlessly pursued – sometimes out of necessity due to crippling injuries, but mostly because he is a moulder of men and comes from a country that has always prided itself on its next generation.
Under the Dutchman’s guidance Jazira brought through the likes of Mubarak – who now holds equal standing at club level with the iconic Mabkhout – Mohamed Jamal, Salem Al Eedi and Sultan Al Shamsi to name but a few.
But whereas these players – Mubarak in-particular – are thriving, it is the next class that are being given their chance under compatriot Damien Hertog and appear to have shimmering futures.
We all know about Al Attas from his performances at the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup. A player brought into the fold out of necessity by Ten Cate for his ability to fill myriad positions, he is now truly looking the part at both club and international level. Al Attas and Ramadan are both 21, while 20-year-old Al Hammadi has been a revelation this season, with emerging striker Zayed Al Ameri, 22, also forcing his way through.
Al Ain – champions of the AGL and in second place before this game – were mercilessly beaten at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium with Al Attas and Al Hammadi anchoring the defence, restricting the impact of 69-times capped Sweden international Berg.
They didn’t even flinch, while Ramadan is settling nicely into Jazira’s midfield. Ten Cate started things in motion and Jazira’s academy starlets are continuing to move forward.