Such was Al Ain’s strength last term, they cruised to the Arabian Gulf League-title without both their attacking inspiration and major source of goals.
Star duo Omar Abdulrahman and Asamoah Gyan cut periphery figures, a frustrating series of injuries seeing them start less than half of the top-flight matches. Ominously, the other 13 sides could not get near them.
The latter is currently still picking up muscle complaints at new club Shanghai SIPG. But the same cannot be said of his celebrated former team-mate or replacement Emmanuel Emenike.
The pair were in awe-inspiring form against Al Wasl Sunday, Abdulrahman pulling the strings as the Nigeria striker struck his second brace in two starts during an impressive win at Al Wasl.
“We had full control of the game,” visiting boss Zlatko Dalic said.
“We played the best football. It was important Emenike scored two goals.
“We knew Wasl are a strong team, who beat Al Jazira last time. But we gave them nothing.”
‘Amoory’ has been nothing short of sensational in the early weeks of 2015/16. Asia’s standout playmaker has looked back to his ebullient best, getting two assists in the AGL-opening victory against Al Dhafra and six more in the UAE’s recent 10-0 dismantling of Malaysia.
His unique turns and testing range of passes meant the Cheetahs – who returned from hotly-tipped Jazira with a 2-1 win in the opening round – could not get anywhere near the 23-year-old.
Dalic declared his incredible No10 can “do even better” in the months ahead.
He said: “Last season, we couldn’t use Omar in many important games. Inshallah, he will be ready and he is going to be back to his best.
“He is in good form but he can do even better. He is the best player in the league, one pass and we score a goal – I must push him and support him.”
Abdulrahman played a central role in a first half which featured two glaring misses from Ryan Babel. The Netherlands new boy has not hit the ground running like midfielder Fellipe Bastos or Emenike, also courting controversy off the pitch with a series of tweets.
A simple header should have been converted on seven minutes, while he could not find a gap past Rashed Ali when played through by Abdulrahman soon after.
The opener finally arrived shortly after the interval. ‘Amoory’ – who else – derived the perfect pass with the outside of his foot from deep to play in on-rushing right-back Mohamed Ahmed, an excellent low cross picking out Emenike to tap home.
The 28-year-old has struggled with fitness troubles of his own, a muscle complaint picked up while scoring a pair in the Arabian Gulf Super Cup-success against Al Nasr seeing him miss out for the Boss since.
The Fenerbahce loanee looked in fine condition on 64 minutes as he sealed the points in eye-catching fashion, a swivel and instant short from 25 yards producing an unstoppable second.
Wasl came crashing down to earth after the highs of the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, the continuing absence of forward Caio Canedo as he awaits a Timor-Leste passport damaging.
“Al Ain are the best team in the league,” coach Gabriel Calderon said. “We had two or three injuries and one foreigner out.
“Inshallah, Caio will be ready to play soon. When he will play, it will be very good for us.”
With first-choice UAE centre-backs Mohanad Salem and Ismail Ahmed redoubtable in defence, Al Ain closed out the match with ease against solid opposition. They will take some catching.
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