x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Al Dhafra's new boys brush past established Sharjah side

Sharjah 0 Al Dhafra 1 Dhafra looked surprisingly cohesive despite fielding nine new signings against their illustrious opponents.

Al Dhafra's Makhet runs past Sharjah's Salmain.
Al Dhafra's Makhet runs past Sharjah's Salmain.

Sharjah 0 Al Dhafra 1

AL AIN // It is difficult to comprehend that Al Dhafra, the fourth best team in the first division last season, would last night enter the first of their three play-off matches as favourites.

The opponents were Sharjah, Pro League stalwarts and five-time UAE champions, yet, such has been the level of summer spending at their Western Region rivals, that the coach Dzemal Hadziabdic's new collection of players are afforded a certain amount of respect.

The throng of fresh faces - 17 in all - signalled their lofty intentions on a humid evening at Al Ain's Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium, defeating Sharjah by a solitary goal, courtesy of Amara Diane, the Ivorian who excelled last year at Al Nasr.

The striker had appeared out of sorts for most of the match, yet just after the hour he met Hamad Rage Al Ahbabi's precise cross to power a header past Mohahammed Yousif and gift his side three precious points in the race for promotion.

Dhafra looked surprisingly cohesive despite fielding a side comprising nine new signings, with only the goalkeeper Abdul Baset and Mahmoud Awadh, the left-sided winger, the remnants of last year's modest league campaign.

Hadziabdic's men formed a huddle moments before kick off, presumably to swap introductions rather than instructions.

However, recent training sessions have been put to good use, with Dhafra shading the first half as they enjoyed the majority of possession.

Abdulsalam Jumaa, the veteran midfielder who earlier in the summer was convinced to postpone his retirement, could represent their best piece of business, as the new Dhafra captain controlled play from the centre of the park.

While Jumaa provides the substance, Makhete Diop is expected to offer the style, or, more pertinently, attacking intent.

The Senegalese forward took only six minutes of his debut to demonstrate his attributes, although he should have done better with his header from Saif Mohammed's fine cross.

Unmarked, Diop failed to connect properly, leaving Yousif to palm away the attempt for a corner.

The rangy striker then came close again six minutes later, expertly bringing down a hopeful ball forward, only to swivel and drag his half volley wide of the Sharjah post.

Yet for all Dhafra's domination, Sharjah were unlucky not to go into the interval at least a goal to the good.

Marcelinho, the Brazilian, was not expected to remain with the club this season, but Faouzi Benzarti, the coach, has kept faith with his striker and was almost rewarded twice before half time.

Marcelinho first rose above a congested penalty area to glance a header against the post, and then on 36 minutes contrived to miss from two yards after Moussa Narry, Sharjah's new Ghanaian signing, saw his shot tipped on to the bar by Baset.

The second half continued in much the same fashion as the first, although as Sharjah began to appear weary Dhafra grew in confidence. Diop dragged a shot narrowly wide when put through on 53 minutes, although his frustrations proved only temporary as 12 minutes later Diane found the most important of winners.

A late Marcelinho free kick was tipped around the post by Baset as the match slipped away from Sharjah, Dhafra proving too much change, sometimes, can be a good thing.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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