ABU DHABI // Any questions about Al Jazira's capacity to defend their Pro League crown were quickly dispelled last night with a 4-0 thumping of Al Ahli, the Dubai side, who are predicted to be one of their closest challengers this season.
The star of the show was Ricardo Oliveira, the Pro League's record signing, who scored twice and earned a spot kick for his side to dazzle a crowd of 11,864 at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
With their pre-season preparations disrupted by Alejandro Sabella's decision to end his short reign as manager to coach the Argentine national team and their rivals recruiting big-name stars to enhance their squads, Jazira could have been forgiven for looking over their shoulders as this league season began.
But the Abu Dhabi side lost only once domestically all season in 2010/11 and they showed why that was with a clinical display last night.
Ivan Hasek's visitors had been the better side for most of the first half and that display will give them confidence to the remainder of the campaign.
But the champions' class shone through and the Belgian manager Franky Vercauteren could even afford to leave one of his foreign players, the Brazilian forward Bare, on the bench.
Ahli could have taken an early lead but Jakson Coelho's free kick from 30 yards out hit the crossbar in the fourth minute.
Jazira's first scoring chance came in the seventh minute when Lucas Neill volleyed a corner straight at Yousuf Abdullah, the Ahli goalkeeper.
Then Ahli went on the front foot. Grafite, the former Wolfsburg striker, worked his way inside the box and pulled the ball back for Ismail Al Hammadi. The UAE international's effort did not have the power to beat Khalid Essa, the Jazira stopper.
Grafite beat the offside trap soon after and he took the ball past Essa with a deft touch. However, with time to stop and look up, he chose to shoot at an open goal from a difficult position and got his angles all wrong.
After all Ahli's early promise Oliveira put the home side in front six minutes before the break with a spectacular header.
The Brazilian forward connected on a cross from Neill, the former English Premier League defender, and Ahli's Abdullah could only stand and watch the ball glide into the net.
Oliveira doubled the lead seven minutes into the second half. He had enough time to slam home a short pass after good work from Abdullah Qasem
The former AC Milan frontman was denied of a hat-trick on the hour when his shot was pushed out by Khalid Mohammed, the Ahli defender, who was red carded for deliberately handling the ball.
Ibrahim Diaky stepped up to convert the penalty and put the match beyond Ahli's reach.
Bare then came off the bench to show Vercauteren what he could do.
The Brazilian, a former Ahli player, scored with his first touch when he tapped in a pass from Matias Delgado, the Argentine midfielder, to complete the rout.
"We had more chances to score early in the match but we didn't take them," said Hasek, who returned to Ahli after two seasons away. "Jazira scored first and then they played well in the second half to take the game away from us. It became difficult for us after a player was sent off. Congratulations for Jazira. They played well.
"We still don't have the right balance with a lot of young players at the back. We did a lot of individual mistakes and that cost us goals. It is disappointing for our fans because we didn't deserve to lose 4-0.
"There was no big difference between the two teams. We were not very lucky. We lost the first game, which was disappointing, but that's not the end for us."
Vercauteren acknowledged Ahli's fine start to the match.
"Even I know we had a little bit of luck," said the Belgian. "Even I know we were lucky when a shot early in the game against us hit the crossbar.
"There were a lot of good things from this game and I am happy because the team won 4-0."