Marcel Keizer’s second reign at Al Jazira got off to a winning start, champions Sharjah were sumptuous as they maintained the only 100 per cent record of the new season, while the Beast was monstrous as Al Nasr finally won.
Here’s our take on the weekend’s action from the Arabian Gulf League’s fourth round of action.
THE MIDAS DUTCH
Marcel Keizer 2.0. Jazira’s latest managerial experiment got off to a winning start with the returning Dutchman leading an incredibly young side to an easy 3-1 victory over promoted Khorfakkan.
In truth, the sacking of compatriot Jurgen Streppel was harsh. It is often the case in a sport that mirrors the transient nature of the country itself. But Streppel’s dismissal seemed extreme considering Jazira’s opening three fixtures were a 2-0 win against Al Dhafra, a 3-2 defeat to Al Wahda and a 0-0 draw against Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club – one of the title favourites.
But when the Pride of Abu Dhabi hierarchy made their decision, former charge Keizer was available, and everyone concerned will have been satisfied by what they saw. Keizer’s mentor Henk ten Cate would have been especially pleased with the club’s thriving academy at the heart of all three goals.
Khalifa Al Hammadi, at 20 already a full UAE international, opened the scoring, with Ali Mabkhout making it 2-0, the lethal marksman supplied by Zayed Al Ameri, 22. Egypt-born midfielder Abdullah Ramadan, 21, restored their two-goal cushion after Dodo pulled one back for the home side; he was set up by 18-year-old substitute Ahmed Mahmoud.
With Keizer back at the controls, the Jazira machine is being powered by a wave of exciting, impactful local talent.
HARD TO STOMACH
صور ||مباراة شباب الاهلي 2 و بني ياس 0 - دوري الخليج العربي pic.twitter.com/jPNLkAnKu4— نادي شباب الأهلي (@Shabab_AlAhliFC) October 19, 2019
There was a good reason for getting rid of Leonardo, the undoubtedly brilliant Brazilian who had left a bitter taste in the mouth by the end of his tenure with Al Wahda.
But the decision to jettison the problematic forward might be tinged with regret judging by the contrasting fortunes for his former and current employers over the weekend.
While the Clarets were left crestfallen following a 3-1 defeat at the hands of an Alvaro Negredo-inspired Al Nasr – the Blue Wave earning a maiden win of the season – Leonardo was painting a masterpiece at his new club, Shabab Al Ahli.
Leonardo had become a nauseating problem the higher-ups at Al Nahyan Stadium could no longer stomach. Those at Rashid Stadium are finding a player much more palatable, the 27-year-old dishing up both goals in a 2-0 triumph over Bani Yas. He scored the first and supplied the second for Davide Mariani.
It’s a feast at the top of the table for Shabab, but famine for Wahda who are feeding off scraps near the bottom.
WASL ARE WALLOWING
Rodolfo Arruabarrena led Al Wasl to third place two seasons ago, but was then sacked following a poor start in 2018/19. After a brief spell in Qatar with Al Rayyan he returned to the UAE when the Shabab Al Ahli job became available.
He led them to the President’s Cup and Arabian Gulf Cup double, while replacement Laurentiu Reghecampf has led the Cheetahs to the bottom of the AGL table after four games.
Wasl were woeful on Saturday night during a meek 5-1 defeat by champions Sharjah, which was emphatic as the scoreline suggests.
How Wasl fans must wish they could turn the clocks back. It is now surely a question of when, not if, the club calls time on Reghecampf’s reign.
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A nation expects whenever celebrated playmaker Omar Abdulrahman takes to the pitch.
But Tuesday’s first UAE start in a year after his serious knee injury ended in a momentum-sapping defeat to Thailand in World Cup 2022 qualifying.
An undercooked Amoory was inconsequential in a second-round clash from which Muangthong United forward Teerasil Dangda and Whites record-breaker Ali Mabkhout traded first half headers, before Chiangrai United teenager Ekanit Panya earned a 2-1 win in the 51st minute.
On target: 2
Off target: 4
Yellow cards: 2
Bert van Marwijk’s men travelled to Thailand eager to build on a 100-per-cent start from two second-round matches.
Vanquished opponents Malaysia and Indonesia, however, were not even close to the level expected from Tuesday’s hosts. And this state of play proved true at Thammasat Stadium.
The War Elephants – who also hit the woodwork twice – went ahead when Panya crossed to Dangda, who moved onto 45 goals in 102 internationals. Mabkhout would level in first-half injury time from Al Hassan Saleh’s cross, but Panya soon pounced to earn a deserved win.
Killer vision remains: The zip of old is, understandably, not there yet after a recent rehabilitation from another serious knee injury.
But the quality in possession is still there. A ball that intersected centre-back and full-back for Al Wahda winger Khalil Ibrahim was divine, so too the cheek to blast a free-kick from out wide narrowly over.
This was only a second start in eight appearances for club and country this term. Both the UAE and Al Jazira will hope increased physical sharpness brings greater defining moments.
Lasting the pace: Amoory started brightly, dropping deeper into midfield to dictate proceedings.
There were several sharp passes only he could have conceived. But equally, there were numerous plays where an inhibited Amoory cut back rather than racing forward like the days of old.
This left No9 Mabkhout isolated, while also curtailing opportunities to get exciting Al Wasl teenager Ali Saleh involved. By the time Amoory was hooked for fellow former AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil on 72 minutes, he’d long dropped off the radar.
A night that promised so much for player and country turned into a reality check.
Jazira’s glacial approach to reintroducing their stellar summer signing to first-team football made perfect sense after the Thailand meeting. Amoory is not, as we speak, the same vibrant figure that departed the Emirates for boyhood club Al Hilal in August 2018.
The UAE also can have no illusions now about a strenuous route through Group G. Play like this next month in Vietnam and the alarm bells will ring.
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Bert van Marwijk experienced a first taste of defeat as UAE boss when his side failed to keep up with vibrant Thailand in Tuesday’s World Cup 2022 qualifier.
Torrential rains which had flooded parts of the host country in the build-up, mercifully, stayed away. But the Dutchman’s 100-per-cent start could not weather an onslaught at Thammasat Stadium, where all-time-leading-marksman Ali Mabkhout’s sixth goal in three second-round clashes on the stroke of half-time was sandwiched by Teerasil Dangda’s and Ekanit Panya’s finishes in either half.
Here are the talking points from the damaging 2-1 defeat in Group G:
An unavoidable bump in the road, or worrying signs of insurmountable weaknesses?
These are the scenarios Van Marwijk and his UAE Football Association paymasters will ponder until November 14’s pivotal trip to AFF Suzuki Cup holders Vietnam.
This was the first genuine test of Van Marwijk’s vision. He, and his limp team, did not pass it against opponents whom they’ve registered 1-1 draws in the two prior meetings.
Thailand possessed greater energy and – worryingly – quality. They claimed 61 per cent of possession, while firing in 11 attempts to the Whites’ six.
The 2016 AFC Player of Player Omar Abdulrahman was inconsequential upon his return to the XI for the first time since last October’s crippling knee injury. This personal struggle ensured the depleted Thais did not unduly miss injured J1 League exports Chanathip Songkrasin and Thitiphan Puangchan.
Mabkhout’s unmarked header after outstanding wing play by reinstated Sharjah left-back Al Hassan Saleh was the only chance of note, before 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil’s cameo witnessed a shot which fizzed across the goal-line and a wayward 94th-minute attempt from close range. This lack of threat was reminiscent of the dark days under banal predecessor Alberto Zaccheroni.
In contrast, unsettled Jazira centre-back Mohammed Al Attas cleared a cross onto his own post. Muangthong United veteran forward Dangda miscued when well placed on five minutes and also rattled the crossbar with a powerful header.
These were just the highlights for dominant Thailand.
The Whites had led the section after – expected – victories in Malaysia and versus Indonesia. They now sit third, in a race whereby only first place guarantees progression and sustains belief in a first finals appearance since 1990.
All is not lost with five fixtures left. Not even close.
But searching questions must be asked about the direction of Van Marwijk’s extensive generational shift.
RISK, OR REWARD?
The exemplification of the 67-year-old’s vision is found at the heart of the UAE’s coltish defence.
Laudable faith has been shown in youthful Pride of Abu Dhabi pair Khalifa Al Hammadi and Al Attas. After another unconvincing away defensive performance to follow last month’s Malaysia opener, however, has this bold approach reached a juncture point, or will this investment in opportunity reach fruition – if everything goes to plan, of course – during the third round?
Naive Al Attas, 22, was constantly on the wrong side of Dangda for the headed opener from Panya’s looped cross on 26 minutes. Zero communication between Al Hammadi, 20, and Al Wahda right-back Mohammed Al Menhali then granted the unmarked Panya freedom to pick his spot at the near post – admittedly through a suspect Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa – for the critical second.
This situation is also not aided by unmovable Serbia international Milos Kosanovic at club level, which means they rarely line-up alongside each other.
There are other options to explore. Al Wahda’s Hamdan Al Kamali is a 30-year-old veteran of the ‘Golden Generation’ selected for the London 2012 Olympics, Mohammed Ali Shaker represents the future of Al Ain’s rearguard and Sharjah captain Shaheen Abdulrahman – a late call-up this month – is an inspiration for the Arabian Gulf League champions.
Next month provides a taxing visit to rising Vietnam. Will Van Marwijk’s faith endure?
THAIMED TO PERFECTION
Promise could only take Thailand’s brightest-ever batch of players so far in the previous cycle.
A punishing third round featured no wins and 24 goals conceded from 10 fixtures. There was also then the embarrassing misstep at January’s Asian Cup, where the unpopular Milovan Rajevac was sacked after one game on the way to an unfulfilling round-of-16 exit.
But July’s sagacious appointment of Japan’s World Cup 2018 supremo Akira Nishino has broadened horizons.
The 64-year-old’s 4-2-3-1 formation worked far better than his opposite number’s from the Netherlands on Tuesday evening. Chasms between lone striker Ali Mabkhout and centre-backs Al Hammadi and Al Attas were not present in the joined-up home ranks.
The War Elephants all marched to the same beat, while the disjointed Whites played like they were at a silent disco.
Nishino will have been further buoyed by an enviable strength in depth. Their 21-year-old stand-in playmaker Supachok Sarachart was untouchable and made none of the home support yearn for the exalted Songkrasin, while 19-year-old Panya was both provider and scorer.
The only sore point was makeshift centre-back Tanaboon Kesarat’s and Yokohama Marinos left-back Theerathon Bunmathan’s bewildering failure to pick up Mabkhout for the leveller.
In the race for Group G’s top spot, the Thais have gained a foothold with this triumph and last month’s goalless draw with Vietnam. These games were both at home, they must now exhibit similar acumen on the road in 2020.