x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ahli blow the title race wide open

Ivan Hasek saw his Al Ahli team blow the title race "wide open", beating long-time leaders Jazira 4-2 at home in the game of the season.

Al Jazira's Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano, left, under pressure from Al Ahli's Khaled Mohammed, scored his 18th goal of the season.
Al Jazira's Brazilian striker Fernando Baiano, left, under pressure from Al Ahli's Khaled Mohammed, scored his 18th goal of the season.

ABU DHABI // Ivan Hasek saw his Al Ahli team blow the title race "wide open", beating long-time leaders Jazira 4-2 at home in the game of the season, and then predicted that the league will go down to the final day. Hasek's men now top the table and have beaten Jazira twice this season, the Abu Dhabi team's only defeats, after a pulsating match at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Friday night.

A victory for Abel Braga's side would have opened up a five-point gap at the top leaving the chasing pack, Ahli and Al Ain, with a mountain to climb. As it is, the race to become the first Pro League champions is now between three teams with seven games left. Winfried Schaefer's Ain are just four points off the pace in third after a scoreless draw with the defending champions Al Shabab on Friday.

Hasek predicted the league will go down to the wire. "This result has thrown the league wide open and the champions will not be decided until the last game," said the Czech manager. "It is good result for us and good news for the league as well to keep it alive until the last round." Hasek's side were fortunate to take the lead in a frantic opening quarter of an hour, courtesy of Jazira's Brazilian defender Marcio Rozario, who inexplicably headed a free kick from the Egyptian Hosni Abd Rabo into his own net in the second minute.

That lead did not last long, however, with Fernando Baiano on target for his 18th goal of the season four minutes later. But Ahli's Brazilian Bare restored their advantage in the counter attack, beating Rozario and Rashid Abdulrahman for pace, before shooting past the advancing goalkeeper Ali Kashief in the 14th minute. Jazira dominated possession but only managed to draw level with 10 minutes to go, when Rafael Sobis struck a beautiful equaliser in off the bar from 20 yards.

Just as it looked like Braga's men had done enough for a draw, Ahli struck again through Faisal Khalil with two minutes left and Ahli completed the win when late substitute Mohammed Suroor fired a fourth in injury time. Hasek added: "This was a game we had to win to keep our hopes alive. It was a wonderful effort and had all the excitement for a top of the table game. "I am not in favour of picking out individual names but Faisal scored a fantastic goal. And that gave us the three points but it was a superb team effort.

"Jazira were attacking from all sides and our defence did well to keep them out. We were lucky to go one up early but we didn't lose control of the game at any stage." Braga was graceful in defeat. "We were the better team for a major part. "However, we missed a lot of scoring chances, and some of them we shouldn't have missed. Ahli took advantage and they held their nerve to score whenever an opportunity came. They were better prepared and must be congratulated for the win."

apassela@thenational.ae