x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Pro League dream team at half-term

At the halfway mark of the season, it seems a perfect time to for Paul Oberjuerge to designate a Pro League first XI.

The Etisalat Cup is a pleasant diversion, and the President's Cup offers FA Cup-style collisions between the haves and have-nots. But the Pro League is Topic A, B and C on the agendas of the top-flight domestic clubs.

If it were not so, Aristide Bance would not be in exile in Qatar. He scored four goals in the Etisalat Cup, but he had only two, for Al Ahli, in seven Pro League matches and that is why he was loaned yesterday to the Umm Salal club.

Thus, when judging excellence in domestic football, we are talking first and last about the Pro League. And as we sit at the halfway mark of the season, 11 games down and 11 to go, it seems a perfect time to designate a Pro League first XI.

Goalkeeper: Majed Naser of Al Wasl is the apple of Srecko Katanec's eye, but the man with eye-popping statistics is Ali Kasheif, Al Jazira's man between the posts. Kasheif, fast and athletic, has conceded only six goals from 10 matches to put him at the top of the class.

Central defence: It is fashionable to suggest that Fabio Cannavaro is going through the motions at Al Ahli, but those who have watched him closely say the 37-year-old Italian remains a force on the pitch. He is joined on our all-star team by Al Wahda's Hamdan al Kamali, who at 21 is barely half Cannavaro's age.

Full-backs: Al Ain have leaked goals this season, but it is not because of Fares Juma, one of the league's few defenders who is big as well as fast. He also comes forward with elan, as he showed in the UAE's Asian Cup match with North Korea. Joining him on the other side is Wahda's Eisa Ahmed, another defender always ready to join in the attack. Also, Wahda conceded only five goals in their first eight matches, and Ahmed was a big factor in that.

Midfield: Andre Luciano da Silva, better-known as "Pinga", remains a major force in the attack, with seven goals in 10 matches for Ahli. Wahda fans still must wonder how their Club Would Cup experience might have turned out had the Brazilian playmaker stayed in Abu Dhabi.

Francisco Yeste, of Al Wasl, is an obvious choice for our XI. Not only does he rank among the leaders with eight goals, his skill is matched by his energy and leadership.

Ibrahim Diaky of Jazira also is an easy choice. The Ivorian leads the side in scoring, with 10 goals, but he also orchestrates the attack. Perhaps no player in the league would be harder for his side to replace.

Carlos Villanueva of Al Shabab may not pass the "eyeball" test; he is short and stumpy. No matter. The Chilean with great technical skills has five goals for Shabab and has set up most of the rest.

Forwards: Andre Senghor of Baniyas looks as if someone directed him into the wrong sport. With his long and lean body, basketball perhaps should have been his game.

But the tall Senegalese, who is equally deadly with the ball at his feet or off his head, leads the league in scoring with 12 goals. He is the No 1 reason why Baniyas are second in the table and still could win their first Pro League championship.

Ismail Bangoura may not be a name many will recognise; the Al Nasr forward from the African nation of Guinea is in his first season in the country, and is not nearly as well known as, say, Wahda's Fernando Baiano. But Bangoura has been a scoring machine for Nasr, who would be in huge trouble without him. He has eight goals in league play, and 16 in all competitions this season, leaving him level with Senghor in that category.

Coach: Abel Braga of Jazira is the obvious choice. His team often lack scoring punch at the top because of several bad experiences with Brazilian strikers, but he has kept this club at the top from week one, and the Abu Dhabi side are well-placed to win that elusive first championship.