x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Dubai derby sees Al Ahli pull clear in Arabian Gulf League.

Al Ahli’s Grafite in action against Al Nasr at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai last night. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Ahli’s Grafite in action against Al Nasr at Al Maktoum Stadium in Dubai last night. Satish Kumar / The National

DUBAI // The last time Al Nasr hosted Al Ahli, Walter Zenga, the gas-cooker coach then in charge of the home side, was so incensed by a referee’s decision that he had to be restrained by his entire technical staff.

In seeing figurative red, he promptly saw red for real, banished to the stands for his explosive remonstration. To be fair, the official had taunted the beast, so to speak, awarding a dubious free-kick in stoppage time from which Ahli’s Luis Jimenez scored the winner.

At times during the repeat fixture at Al Maktoum Stadium last night, it seemed the Nasr support were channelling more than a little “inner Walt”. Each call against their side was hotly contested, their own players’ indecision swiftly seized upon, while the visiting team did not get off too lightly, either. This was a Dubai derby on their patch, after all.

Imagine their dismay, then, when Ahli cracked open this tight encounter thanks to a couple of gifts from their rivals. The deadlock was broken just after the hour, as Nasr’s defence fell asleep at a corner to allow Jimenez to rise unmarked and nod past Ahmed Shambieh. By now a familiar foe, the Chilean would be wise not to venture out around these parts anytime soon.

The hosts extended their hospitality moments later, with Masoud Hassan lunging at the feet of Ciel inside the area to send the Ahli forward tumbling.

Ciel could probably claim to be the league’s own Mario Balotelli from the spot – pre-Napoli last weekend, of course – and dutifully obliged in sending Shambieh the wrong way.

At 2-0, the result was secure, Ahli maintaining their 100 per cent record. They are perched at the top of the division after three rounds. They are responding to those heady pre-season predictions, although Cosmin Olaroiu, their coach, was playing everything with a straight bat.

“We have to look forward for the next games because, until now, we haven’t done anything,” he said. “We have more matches so we have to work harder to continue what we’ve started. But we deserved to win the game.

“We expected it would be difficult, yet created a lot of opportunities. I’m happy with our start.”

The same could not be said for Ivan Jovanovic, Nasr’s latest mentor, whose side have taken three points from a possible nine and will now have to cope with the suspension of Helal Saeed. The defender was sent off late on for two quick-fire bookings.

“We didn’t play like I expected us to,” said Jovanovic. “Nobody wants to lose a derby.

“But we cannot hide behind a result – we have to see a clear image of the team and we now know what we have to fix.”