DUBAI // Speaking ahead of last night's Etisalat Cup game, Quique Sanchez Flores had hoped his Al Ahli team would continue from where they left off last season, when they remained unbeaten in their final nine matches.
They managed to keep that streak going, but lost their cool finishing the game with nine men after Abdulaziz Hussain and Grafite saw red. Ahli could have won the game after taking the lead with just 25 seconds on the clock; Luis Jimenez, who had turned down interest from several Italian Serie A clubs in the summer to stay on in Dubai, caught the Shabab defence unaware.
Hussain's expulsion in the 74th minute, however, left them a man short and Shabab took advantage, equalising seven minutes later through Edgar Bruno.
The Ahli captain Grafite was then given his marching orders in the 90th minute after roughing up Essa Mohammed with an extended arm.
Flores must have surely been disappointed with the end after the stunning start his team made. Just a couple of touches following the kick off, Grafite raced towards Shabab's territory and flicked the ball for Jimenez, who blasted it home.
Shabab should have equalised in the 12th minute when they earned a penalty following Yousif Al Sayed's handball; the Ahli defender had failed to move his hand away from the path of Luiz Henrique's header. Ciel, however, blasted the penalty straight into the post, giving the visitors a huge reprieve.
That miss was the only blemish in Ciel's bustling performance in the first session. He was clearly the best man on the pitch, running through and around Ahli's defences. Shabab's two new Brazilian recruits, Henrique and Bruno, put in plenty of hard yards as well and the home side gradually established their control over the proceedings.
They kept creating opportunities, including the one in the 35th minute when Bruno headed Ciel's free-kick towards the goal, but Obaid Al Taweela, the Ahli goalkeeper, showed good anticipation.
Despite the pressure created by Shabab's Brazilian trio, the visitors managed to take their lead into the break, their defence standing strong despite missing regulars Basheer Saeed and Ahmed Salem to injuries.
Coming back after the break, Shabab maintained their aggressive stance and the scores could have been level at 1-1 in the 50th minute if Bruno had done better with Henrique's cross. Instead, he blasted it way over.
Ahli had another escape in the 77th minute when Ciel's viciously curling free kick just missed the target, but four minutes later Shabab were finally rewarded for their efforts when Bruno managed to nudge Ciel's delivery into the nets.
Meanwhile, Al Wasl started their post Diego Maradona era with a convincing 4-2 win over promoted side Kalba at Al Ahli last night despite losing defender Ali Mohammed Abdelrahman to a red card in the 10th minute.
Three minutes later, Lucas Neill put them ahead, but Adil Saqr Abdullah equalised for Kalba in the 22nd minute. Five minutes later, Emiliano Alfaro converted a penalty to put Wasl back in the lead, but Gregory Dufrennes equalised on the hour mark through the game's second penalty.
Wasl received another penalty in the 85th minute and Mariano Donda converted successfully to make it 4-2, nine minutes after Alfaro had nudged in Wasl's third of the night.
In last night's other game, Al Shaab made a disappointing return to action following their promotion to the Pro League, losing 2-0 to Dubai in an Etisalat Cup match at the Sharjah Stadium last night. Richard Portas truck the opener for the hosts in the ninth minute. Simon Feindouno made it 2-0 in the 85th minute with a crisp, low finish after weaving his way around two defenders.
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