Arabian Gulf League: Ivan Leko is a relieved man after memorable Al Ain top-flight debut

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Ivan Leko (Al Ain).

Victory was all that mattered for relieved Al Ain boss Ivan Leko after a dramatic opening Arabian Gulf League victory against Ittihad Kalba.

Utility defender Saeed Juma, 21, struck a deflected first senior goal in the 96th minute at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to secure Friday’s memorable 3-2 triumph.

This marked some introduction for Leko, hired this summer by the UAE’s most-decorated club after a trophy laden two-year stint at Belgium’s Club Brugge.

The ex-Croatia midfielder said: “I would like to congratulate the players on the fighting spirit they showed from the beginning to the end of the game and they know very well what is required. I would also like to congratulate Kalba.

“The most important fact from the day is that we claimed all three points.”

The Boss next visit Al Wasl on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Al Jazira head coach Jurgen Streppel heaped praise on his players as they opened their top-flight campaign with a 2-0 victory over Al Dhafra.

In Thursday’s clash at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, Mohamed Al Attas opened the scoring in the first-half before Keno’s strike deep into stoppage time secured maximum points.

Streppel was happy with the result and was particularly pleased with his players’ control.

“To start the league with a win is very good. I was happy with how we controlled the first-half as we had a lot of possession and our hard work saw us take the lead,” said the Dutchman during his post-match press conference.

“We were excellent with our set-pieces and that was a big positive. As the match went on, we kept improving although Al Dhafra made it difficult.

“However, we scored again and I must say I was very happy to see our players earn the win.”

Fans also saw Omar Abdulrahman play for the first time after coming on as a second-half substitution while playmaker Khalfan Mubarak and young striker Zayed Al Ameri also came off the bench.

Streppel was happy to give both players minutes, but emphasised the victory was a team effort.

“Khalfan Mubarak, Omar Abdulrahman and Zayed Al Ameri played very well but everyone in the squad deserves credit following our performance today,” he said.

Jazira will aim to protect a 1-0 lead on Monday in the second leg of their Arab Club Champions Cup meeting with Oman’s Al Nasr Salalah.

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