It’s not just the biting Shamal wind which has blown through Al Ain this week.
New coach Zoran Mamic has been drafted in – poached, as ex-Saudi Arabian employers Al Nassr have argued – to bring order to an unravelling 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League campaign.
The first steps of this mission were promising as Brazilian winger Caio, rampaging UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed and Omar Abdulrahman’s effortless penalty earned a 3-0 win against Al Nasr on a freezing night at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. This triumph sent the Boss back up to second and gave a platform for Zlatko Dalic’s replacement to build from.
“It was a difficult start for us, Al Nasr had some chances,” Mamic said. “But after that, we took control.
“We presented, I think, good football. After this game, of course you know better than me, that there is a lot of potential and quality within this team.”
Mamic patrolled the touchline with a stoic assuredness which stood in contrast to the paroxysms of opposite number Dan Petrescu. The Romanian’s anguish was exacerbated by Morocco playmaker Abdulaziz Barrada’s unforgivable second-minute miss, as a painful fourth-successive match without victory further stunted the Wanderley-less Blue Wave’s prior improvement.
Petrescu said: “We played very well in the first half, maybe the best 45 minutes of my time as coach here.
“The second half was the worst of my time here as a coach.”
It was clear from kick-off that Mamic is not set to rip up the blueprint inherited from his fellow Croatian. The 4-2-3-1 formation remained, with 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman given full licence to probe at will.
Yet the script should have been flipped almost from kick-off, only for Barrada to drag wide when played clean through.
It was all downhill from there for the visitors. UAE reserve goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh soon spilled to the grateful Caio for his 10th goal in 16 AGL games.
After the crossbar was struck at both ends by Barrada and Saudi Arabia predator Nasser Al Shamrani as the first half wound down, Ahmed deftly flicked home a third goal of the season and ‘Amoory’ punished centre-back Khalifa Mubarak’s brain-dead handball.
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