AL AHLI 1
Al Ahli: Ahmed Khalil 90’+3
Man of the match: Ahmed Mallah (Dubai)
DUBAI // Last season, Al Ahli started their league campaign with a brilliant 6-3 win over defending champions Al Ain.
This time they seemed headed for a goalless start in their Arabian Gulf League opener against Dubai but were rescued by substitute Ahmed Khalil’s stunning free-kick in injury time.
Until then, Ahli had seemed short of firepower with Grafite looking rusty. The Dubai defence, led by Ahmed Mallah, put up a spirited resistance as well, but Khalil’s curling effort from the edge of the box denied them a point they deserved.
“Dubai played a very good game,” said a relieved Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu. “For us, the most important target was to get three points and thank God we got it.
“I am not satisfied about the way we played, but I am happy we got three points – and I am happy that Ahmed scored. It will be really good for his morale and his psychology. I said a few days ago, Ahmed is the sort of player that we need at the top of his confidence.”
While the goal will certainly help Khalil’s confidence, Olaroiu will be hoping also to lift the team’s morale, particularly in attack. In four matches this season in all competitions, Olaroiu’s men have scored only three goals and this was their first win in regulation time. They beat Al Ain in a shoot-out for the Super Cup and drew two League Cup games.
“We have a problem and we have to solve it,” Olaroiu said.
“We will try to fix it. I want the team to score goals and play in a good way. The three points are important but that is not enough – the way we play is also important to me.”
After the 1-1 draw against promoted side Emirates in their previous game in the League Cup, Olaroiu was confident his team would be a lot different after the return of Ahli’s national team players. Majed Naser, Ismail Al Hammadi, Majed Hassan, Abdulaziz Haikal and Abdulaziz Sanqour all made the starting line-up, but Ahli looked far from convincing.
Their clearest opportunity arrived in the 25th minute when Ciel squeezed through a cross for Grafite. The Brazilian had ample time and space but shot straight into the Dubai keeper.
The visitors came close a few more times in the second half but Dubai looked set for a point until the third minute of added time when Khalil, who replaced Hugo Viana in the 67th minute, broke the hearts of the home fans.
“We played a good match, but I am so disappointed we lost in the last minute,” said Martin Rueda, the Dubai coach. “We deserved a point from this game, but I am confident we will continue to play well in the coming matches.”