x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Al Ahli emerged as victors of an entertaining clash, their lead over second-placed Al Shabab extended to four points.

Al Ahli, in red, solidified their hold at the top of the Arabian Gulf League table on Friday night by sending off their nearest challenger, Al Shabab. Hassan Al Raisi / Al Ittihad
Al Ahli, in red, solidified their hold at the top of the Arabian Gulf League table on Friday night by sending off their nearest challenger, Al Shabab. Hassan Al Raisi / Al Ittihad

DUBAI // The banner unfurled at the beginning of the encounter was rolled back out at its conclusion, too.

“We are ready and we will always lead,” read the placard, hoisted aloft by a group of Al Ahli supporters, in reference to their club’s quest for a first UAE title in five seasons; a crusade gilded by Friday night’s derby delight against Al Shabab.

Bound both geographically and at the top of the Arabian Gulf League, the division’s current best two sides confronted each other for the first time since last May’s breathless President’s Cup final.

Just like that inspired evening at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Ahli emerged as victors of an entertaining clash, their lead over second-placed Shabab extended to four points.

Almost halfway through this 2013/14 campaign, the 2009 champions stand alone at the summit. No wonder, then, that with the triumph came a tangible sense of satisfaction.

“We have only played 11 matches, but what is important is that we continue to play how we did tonight,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant coach standing in for the suspended Cosmin Olaroiu. “Then it will be particularly hard for anyone to beat us.”

Raducan’s bullishness is mirrored by the statistics: 11 rounds gone, eight victories and a solitary defeat.

That it came only last week – away to Al Wasl – and stretched a barren spell to three matches added a certain significance to this tie, but Ahli withstood some serious Shabab pressure to maintain their early season dominance.

They could even afford to waste a penalty with Grafite’s effort finding the post.

“We’re very happy, first because we beat the team second in the league and, secondly, because we hadn’t won for three matches,” Raducan said.

“But I’m also happy because the team showed spirit and character – the things we didn’t have against Wasl. The most important thing is to keep this attitude for all the games.”

Do that, and Ahli could be celebrating long into the season. However, while they departed the Rashid Stadium with the spoils, Shabab could feel an element of regret, having contributed much to a brilliantly frenetic clash.

The telling touches came first through an early Edgar Bruno own goal, and then from Luis Jimenez’s fine close-range volley deep into the second half.

Bruno will feel particularly uncomfortable, given he also put past his own goalkeeper in that President’s Cup showdown, an effort that gifted Ahli the trophy. He would not even complete the resumption of the rivalry here, as late on the Brazilian striker collected a second yellow card for a blatant handball.

He may want to give the return fixture a swerve.

Despite the defeat, though, Shabab still harbour hopes of a successful season.

“At the beginning, many people didn’t think Shabab would keep up with the leaders, but our management and everyone at the club did well to prepare the team and here we are in second,” said Marcos Paqueta, the coach.

“Our aim is still to finish in the top four, but why not challenge for the league?”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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OTHER GAMES

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AL AIN 1 SHARJAH 1

Al Ain Gyan 27’ (pen) Sharjah Juma 11’

Sharjah stayed above Al Ain in fifth place after leaving the Garden City with a point yesterday after a hard-fought draw. The visitors had taken a lead through Yousuf Saeed Juma but Asamoah Gyan, right, converted a penalty after Ibrahim Diaky had been bundled over by a clumsy challenge in the area, restored parity for Quique Sanchez Flores’s side. Al Ain remain in fifth place on 18 points, one behind Sharjah.

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EMIRATES 2 AL WASL 1

Emirates Gerrera 43’, Henrique 90’ Al Wasl Senghor 64’

Red card Al Hamour (Al Wasl)

Less than a week after inflicting a first league defeat on leaders Al Ahli, it was Al Wasl on the receiving end as Emirates emerged 2-1 winners. German Herrera sent the hosts into the break in front before Andre Senghor swooped in the 64th minute. The Brazilian Luis Henrique grabbed the match winner after Othman Al Hamour was red carded in the 78th minute.

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AL SHAAB 2 DUBAI 1

Al Shaab N’dri 83’, Quirino 85’ Dubai Yaslam 38’

Red card Al Balooshi (Dubai)

Al Shaab moved off the bottom of the table after snatching all three points with two goals in the last seven minutes against Dubai, who had Mohammed Al Balooshi sent off. Rami Yaslam had given Dubai a lead just before half time with a superb free kick but Michael N’dri and Quirino pounced late on to move Shaab level on seven points with Dubai and Ajman.

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