Holders Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s Arabian Gulf Cup title defence was harmed on Saturday night when Al Dhafra inflicted their first defeat of this edition.
Defender Mohammed Saif got the scoring under way at Rashid Stadium when he was on hand to convert the rebound from Joao Pedro’s header just before half-time. The aforementioned Brazilian striker – who missed a 15th-minute penalty following a handball from Leonardo – then got on the score sheet himself when he headed a loose ball home, sending the Western Knights top of Group A at the expense of their hosts thanks to a memorable 2-0 victory.
In Group B, another Brazilian hit man Jhonnattann forced the only goal when Fujairah beat promoted Hatta 1-0.
The 30-year-old charged inside the penalty area in the 47th minute and lashed home. This result moved Madjid Bougherra’s men into the top two, while Hatta stay bottom.
The evening’s action was rounded off in style when Arabian Gulf League champions Sharjah thrashed 10-man Al Wasl 4-0.
Ex-UAE winger Tariq Ahmed, Hamad Jasim , Omar Jumaa and Rafael Resende netted in Group B. At the other end, Khamis Esmail was dismissed for two yellow cards.
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It’s taken a coach from the Low Lands to lift UAE spirits off the floor.
A demoralising few years had followed for anyone attached to the Whites since the unexpected high of 2015’s rousing – and surprise – run to the Asian Cup’s semi-finals. Their ‘Golden Generation’ lost its sheen, and paternal figure in Mahdi Ali, along the way to missing World Cup 2018, while a second-successive third-placed finish in the Asian spectacle under the tedious Alberto Zaccheroni left few positive feelings on home soil last January.
Direction, and a renewed sense of purpose, was desperately required. On the early evidence, they’ve, belatedly, been provided by the Netherlands’ Bert van Marwijk – and in good time, with a telling trip to Thailand coming up on Tuesday.
Vigour defined a second-half display against Indonesia on Thursday from which Al Jazira predator Ali Mabkhout produced a hat-trick that sent him into the record books as his nation’s leading scorer. These goals helped earn a 5-0 win that put the UAE top of Group G with a perfect six-point haul from two second-round World Cup 2022 qualifiers.
An inability to change gear created a stultifying side throughout the 2018 process, under Ali and uninspiring ex-Argentina supremo Edgardo Bauza. This propensity to make watching paint dry a favourable pastime was moved into a new sphere during Zaccheroni’s goal-shy, 15-month tenure.
Fear of repetition under the Van Marwijk regime had arisen in last month’s unpropitious competitive opener in Malaysia. With 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman restricted to a cameo role because of long-term injury, they recovered from a 33-second concession to limp home 2-1 winners.
A brace from Mabkhout saved the day from a match low on chances and excitement.
This picture did not look much brighter against lowly Indonesia for the first 45 minutes on Thursday. A difference of 101 places in the FIFA rankings did not play out, with a youthful Whites side – the same XI that started versus Malaysia – requiring gifts to go 1-0 up through Al Wahda midfielder Khalil Ibrahim.
But then came a torrent of goals when minds conditioned to torpor expected a drab side to go through the motions.
Van Marwijk has created sparks after years of darkness. His side must now catch fire on the outskirts of Bangkok.
Ittihad Kalba announced the official appointment of ex-Bani Yas boss Jorge Da Silva to cap off a weekend in which the third coach, Al Jazira’s Jurgen Streppel, was dismissed in less than a month of Arabian Gulf League-action.
Da Silva, 57, inked a one-year deal on Saturday to replace Italy’s Fabio Viviani whose second spell in charge was terminated on September 27 after he accrued a 15-match winless top-flight run. The ex-Uruguay striker won the 2014/15 Saudi Professional League crown with Al Nassr, but this posting immediately followed an ignominious eight-month stint in the UAE with the Sky Blues.
Elsewhere on Friday, the impatient Pride of Abu Dhabi confirmed the long-expected news that they’d fired Streppel, who won only one of his three AGL matches at the expected title challengers since his July 1 hiring. A return for Marcel Keizer – ditched by Sporting Lisbon last month – is mooted.
Fellow Dutchman Maurice Steijn, 45, is expected to be imminently ditched by Al Wahda and potentially replaced by Braga’s Ricardo Sa Pinto, but Al Wahda were yet to issue any official confirmation by Saturday evening. This cull has also contained Al Nasr’s choice to terminate Caio Zanardi on September 28.
Da Silva will be expected to utilise all the experience accrued in a 12-year senior managerial career and correct Kalba’s slide towards relegation.
The ex-Atletico Madrid and Uruguay striker – whose last job lasted from December 2018-April 2019 in his homeland with Defensor – takes over the only pointless outfit in the AGL after three rounds. They do, however, boast Hungary winger Balazs Dzsudzsak and prolific Togo striker Peniel Mlapa within their ranks.
In the capital, Streppel fell victim to raised expectations.
Jazira spent lavishly in the summer on the likes of 2016 AFC Player of the Year Amoory and – now-injured – Pyramids FC loanee Keno.