DUBAI // Al Shabab's Etisalat Pro League winning streak reached Barcelona-esque proportions last night after Ciel, their Brazilian forward, scored the type of goal of which Lionel Messi would have bragged.
The UAE's form team extended their run to eight wins in a row on the basis of virtuoso display by their South American import, who is not so much a "false No 9" as a false 99 - given his shirt number.
His goal in the first half here was so delicious, it might well have been served with flake.
After a 50 metre dash down the right flank and a neat interchange of passes with Luis da Silva Alves, his compatriot, he curled a crisp left-footed drive from the edge of the box into the top corner.
Having laid the platform, Ciel cemented the victory when he laid on the clinching second goal for Edgar Bruno, Shabab's third Brazilian, with 12 minutes left.
This match was always likely to be settled by a native Portuguese speaker. Conventional wisdom had suggested it would be on the Al Ahli side, though, given they had been able to pair Grafite and Ricardo Quaresma in the same XI for the first-time.
On this evidence, though, the Brazilian-Portuguese combination still needs some work.
Which is not something you suspect necessarily appeals to Quaresma. The wayward former wunderkind of European football constantly treads the thin dividing line between effortless and making no effort.
He was booked within 90 seconds of kick off - and was lucky that was only yellow, after kicking out unnecessarily at his marker.
The former Barcelona maverick can play the game at walking pace and still evade tackles with ease. In the 14th minute he sauntered through the Shabab defence with as little trouble as an idler strolling along the promenade.
When he reached the crunch point, however, he was just as ambivalent, poking a lackadaisical shot at the Shabab goalkeeper Ismail Rabee.
Grafite, for his part, was rusty after his recent long suspension.
His influence in open play was minimal, and he even missed a penalty on the hour mark.
This was awarded after Ismail Al Hammadi, Ahli's UAE winger, had been felled in the box by Mohammed Marzooq.
Defeat in the Mamzar derby all but ended Ahli's title hopes, which had surprisingly flickered back to life earlier in the evening.
Al Ain's shock 1-0 defeat by basement-dwellers Dibba Al Fujairah may have done little more than downgraded their prospects of winning the title from "nailed on" to merely "almost certain".
But at least it infused the chasing pack with an unanticipated breath of hope.
Renewed optimism was tangible among the Ahli supporters who cheered the result while watching on televisions in the coffee shop in Century Mall, which neighbours Shabab's home ground.
Their players, too, had an appreciable spring in their step warming up, knowing that second place in the table may not necessarily be the extent of their ambitions any longer. In truth, it would take the sort of run of results that even Admir Suljic, the suspected match fixer at the centre of the Interpol investigation, would not go near for Al Ain to blow the title from here.
If prizes were given out for current form, Shabab would be the champions of UAE, Asia and probably the world, too.
Meanwhile Kalba pulled off a surprise 2-1 win over Al Nasr as they secured a precious three points in their fight to avoid relegation.
Second from bottom Kalba are now on 10 points, just above Dibba in the standings. Their victory came via goals from the Brazilian Ji Parana just before the break and Mohamed Malalla three minutes from full time.
Giuseppe Mascara converted a 52nd-minute penalty for Nasr.
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