x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Al Ahli maintain course for domestic treble with victory over Al Jazira in Arabian Gulf Cup

Al Ahli maintained their hopes of a domestic treble with a superb comeback victory against Al Jazira in the Arabian Gulf Cup final on Saturday night.

Al Ahli's Ismail Al Hammadi, left, battles for the ball during the Arabian Gulf Cup final between against Al Jazira at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on April 19, 2014. Al Hammadi hit the game-winner in the 81st minute for Ahli. Al Ittihad
Al Ahli's Ismail Al Hammadi, left, battles for the ball during the Arabian Gulf Cup final between against Al Jazira at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on April 19, 2014. Al Hammadi hit the game-winner in the 81st minute for Ahli. Al Ittihad

AL JAZIRA 1, AL AHLI 2

Al Jazira - Mabkhout 28’ (pen)

Al Ahli - Gafite 69’, Al Hammadi 81’

Red card - Ameen (Jazira) 90+ mins

Man of the match - Hugo Viana (Al Ahli)

AL AIN // Recent league title winners and now cup conquerors, Al Ahli remain on course to become history makers, too.

The Dubai club, already UAE champions having this month sealed the Arabian Gulf League crown, have their hands on trophy No 2 of this remarkable 2013/14 campaign, defeating Al Jazira 2-1 in the Arabian Gulf Cup final Saturday night at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

With it, Ahli’s quest for an unprecedented domestic treble endures; they are just 90 minutes away.

Next month’s President’s Cup final against Al Ain will provide another stern test of their credentials, but for now Ahli are undisputedly the finest team in the country. Let the good times roll.

“First of all, I want to congratulate the players for what they showed today,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant coach. “The first half was not very good, but in the second half they played like a team who have controlled all this season.

“They showed they are a big team with lots of character, and the most important thing is we show this spirit, we never give up. We’ve fought [in the league] against Sharjah, against Al Wasl and now here against Jazira, and this proves we are real champions. We are very, very happy to take this trophy.”

Just like they did two weeks ago, when they secured a first league trophy in five years, Ahli were forced to come form behind.

Jazira had outplayed their lofty opponents for much of the first half, and were rewarded for their superiority when Ali Mabkhout won and scored a penalty on 28 minutes.

The Emirati striker, a constant thorn in Ahli’s side during the opening exchanges, was tripped by Walid Abbas inside the area, then dusted himself off and kept his cool from the spot.

Saif Yousef, the Ahli goalkeeper, had guessed the wrong way and could only watch as Mabkhout rolled the ball into the other corner.

Ahli, though, are made of steely stuff and regrouped after the interval to take the match to Jazira.

First, Grafite provided the lifeline, as he so often has. The Brazilian, a captain in every sense, rose highest in the Jazira box not long after the hour mark and sent a brilliantly flicked header over Ali Kasheif in the opposition goal.

With momentum favouring Cosmin Olaroiu’s men, Ismail Al Hammadi clinched the spoils nine minutes from time when he ran on to a rebound in the box, dummied past two despairing Jazira defenders and poked past Kasheif.

The stands erupted, as did the Ahli bench.

With qualification for the Asian Champions League knockout stages in the balance – Ahli can ensure progression to the last 16 against Qatar’s Al Sadd on Tuesday – this term promises to yield an even greater harvest. Ahli’s boom times continue.

“As always in football, this game is finished, we don’t have time to celebrate,” Raducan said. “In three days we have another difficult game in the Champions League, it is like a final for us.

“But this trophy was very important for us, where we tried to take everything we could from it. So we take the cup and now we put all our energy into the Champions League. We have no other choice.”

For Jazira, they must be content with their own place in the continental competition’s last 16. They were unwilling to speak after this defeat, an ultimately frustrating evening in which Hassan Ameen’s late red card offered the perfect footnote. This night very much belonged to their conquerors from Dubai.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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