Full-back Bandar Al Ahbabi showcased why he is such a valuable asset for the UAE and Al Ain with an influential performance in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against Ittihad Kalba in the Arabian Gulf League.
Al Ahbabi, 28, drilled a low rebound home once Japan defender Tsukasa Shiotani’s penalty was saved and made the score 1-1. A dangerous cross was then produced by the goal scorer to cause chaos in the visitors’ ranks, from which promising winger Mohamed Khalfan headed in.
Ivory Coast forward Giovanni Sio would complete his brace in first-half injury time to ensure a share of the spoils. This, however, could not prevent Al Ahbabi from becoming our Roger Dubuis Al Ain Player of the Day.
STATISTICS – AL AIN
Possession: 60 per cent
On target: 9
GOT RIGHT – ATTACKING ASSET
The dynamic and effervescent Al Ahbabi has developed into a stand-out full-back for club and country, after a career largely spent further up the pitch.
This attacking pedigree was on show at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium against Kalba as he did his best to stop the Boss’ winless run in all competitions at six matches.
The finish to force in a first top-flight goal from 19 appearances this term deserved high praise. Fine technique was exhibited to find the bottom corner.
An unquenched desire to bomb forward also helped put the Boss into a lead they, ultimately, could not hold on to.
GOT WRONG – NO DEFENSIVE LEADERS
Al Ain’s Achilles heel throughout a dispiriting second half of the season has been their creaking backline.
Whether with veterans like Ismail Ahmed or colts such as Saeed Juma, the goals have kept flying into their net.
Al Ahbabi is an experienced asset, yet defensive diligence isn’t, strictly, his forte. He’s started every fixture since March 30’s 2-1 win against Fujairah, a period in which 17 goals goals have been conceded.
No wonder points are draining away every time under ex-Villarreal tactician Juan Carlos Garrido. This weakness is leaving the attack with far too much to do.
7th min GOAL: Al Ahbabi is wide awake and follows in a penalty stop from Kalba goalkeeper Jamal Ali.
16th min CHANCE: The right-back launches a challenging cross, forcing Kalba’s dawdling defence into several slips that Khalfan will punish to make it 2-1.
Two-goal hero Ahmed Khalil has declared Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club have only just got started after they defeated Al Dhafra 2-1 to lift the President’s Cup and end the amalgamated club’s two-year wait for a first trophy.
2015 AFC Player of the Year Khalil, 27, headed in the first-half opener on Monday evening at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and then produced a delightful free-kick to double the advantage. Veteran Western Knights striker Saeed Al Kathiri responded to tee up a grandstand finish, but an equaliser couldn’t be found.
“As an ambitious striker, it was great to register and thank God for the success and scoring of two goals,” he told Al Bayan.
“This achievement is not strange to our club, historically we owned many titles. We look forward to continuing the effort in the coming period.
“We did not easily beat Al Dhafra, who also aspired to the title.
“They had the ambition to win their first title in a difficult final game of course, but we managed to control it and ultimately achieve our goal and win the title.”
May 2017’s merger of Al Shabab, Al Ahli and Dubai CSC created the current outfit.
Under Argentine boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena, they also sit a distant second in the Arabian Gulf League behind unbeaten leaders Sharjah.
Embattled Al Ain supremo Juan Carlos Garrido still has “trust” the floundering Arabian Gulf League holders can enjoy a strong end to the season.
A painful winless streak for the UAE’s most-decorated club, in all competitions, stretched to six with the weekend’s 2-0 defeat at promoted Bani Yas. This parlous run follows a serious talent drain and internal disciplinary issues.
Ex-Villarreal boss Garrido, 50, must now use all his experience to ensure his fourth-placed employers finish within the top three and qualify for the 2020 AFC Champions League, continuing with Wednesday’s trip to lowly Ittihad Kalba.
He said: “I still insist on the importance of winning to improve our position in the league table and to qualify for the AFC Champions League next season. We have to trust our ability to achieve our goal.
“Our next encounter with Ittihad Kalba is very important and my message to the players of Al Ain is clear and focused.”
Kalba are fourth from bottom, but safe from relegation.