x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Al Ahli 5 Al Shabab 1

Grafite shatters Al Shabab as he grabs his second hat-trick of the season.

Grafite has now scored nine goals in the Pro League.
Grafite has now scored nine goals in the Pro League.

DUBAI // On the eve of the Deira Derby, Al Shabab's Uzbek midfielder Azizbek Haydarov had been bullish about his team's chances against Al Ahli.

"We are playing Al Ahli, not Barcelona," he had said. "So there's nothing to fear and we believe we have a good chance of getting three points."

Next time, Haydarov will probably choose his words carefully. True, Ahli are not Barcelona, but their 5-1 win last night has made one thing very clear: Shabab are not the same side that finished third in the league last season.

The Al Mamzar club have now lost three league games on the trot and there are rumours of the players' unhappiness with their coach Marcos Paqueta's methods and strategies. Starting the season with a 2-0 win over Baniyas, Shabab have since lost to Al Wahda (1-0), Al Nasr (4-2) and now Ahli.

Grafite scored a hat-trick for the hosts, his second of the Pro League this season after the three in the 6-2 win at the defending champions Al Ain.

Last night, he was playing against familiar opponents, a team he had faced seven times last season. Their opening match of this season in the Etisalat Cup was also against Shabab and the two rivals had shared the honours in that game in a 1-1 draw.

Like Shabab, Ahli have also dropped points in their last two games, losing at home to Al Jazira (2-0) and then playing out a 2-2 draw at Al Wasl.

The hosts were also stunned 2-1 by Ajman in an Etisalat Cup game last Sunday. Given their situation, the two Deira rivals were certainly keen for three points from this game.

"Our goal is to win this game and compensate for the loss to Al Jazira and the draw with Al Wasl," Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, had said before the game. "We want to make up for the four points we have dropped."

Paqueta was looking for a "fresh start" to the season in this game, but he was missing three front line players - Issa Mohammed is suspended, Mahmoud Qassem is injured while Issa Obaid has gone on Haj.

The absence of Issa must have been a relief for Grafite. The Shabab defender has made life difficult for the Brazilian in the past but Grafite used the extra freedom he enjoyed last night to open the scoring in the 16th minute.

Ismail Al Hammadi did most of the work for the goal, though, twisting and turning his way around Essam Dahi and Adel Abdullah before crossing for Grafite to tap home.

Luis Jimenez could have got Ahli's second of the night four minutes later, but his booming volley bounced off the crossbar.

The hosts, however, were up 2-0 in the 30th minute courtesy Achille Emana's scorching free kick to the far corner. Ismail Rabea, the Shabab keeper, stood rooted to the spot, not moving an inch as the Ahli midfielder curved the ball around the defensive wall to the gloveman's left.

Two minutes into the second half, Grafite got his second of the night, muscling his way past Hassan Ibrahim and then shooting past Rabea.

Essam Dahi's 60th minute header brought Shabab back into the game, but Jimenez raised Ahli's cushion back to three in the 70th minute, putting the ball past the keeper on second attempt.

The hosts then earned a penalty in the 80th minute after Majed Hassan was brought down by Walid Abbas and Grafite converted from the spot to complete his hat-trick.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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