x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Al Jazira 2 Al Ahli 2

A draw was probably to be expected with Al Ahli coming into the game on a 12-match unbeaten streak and Al Jazira on a nine-match unbeaten run, says Osman Samiuddin.

Ricardo Quaresma, left, was able to work some of his magic in his first Pro League match for Al Ahli.
Ricardo Quaresma, left, was able to work some of his magic in his first Pro League match for Al Ahli.

Abu Dhabi // It was always going to be difficult to find a winner at the Mohammad bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday night, given that Al Ahli's 12-match unbeaten run was up against Al Jazira's own nine-match undefeated streak.

Perhaps it was only fitting then that with the very last act of the game, Yousuf Mohammad's header snatched a 2-2 draw for Ahli and maintained both runs.

Only Al Ain, however, will be truly happy with the result, their win earlier in the day stretching their lead over second-placed Jazira to a daunting nine points.

Ahli are one point farther back now and though their coach Quique Sanchez Flores was happy enough with the result, he acknowledged the difficulties in catching the champions and leaders over the second half of the season.

"Every time you play against Jazira you have to respect them," he said.

"It is always one of the hardest games of season, because they are one of the best sides there. So a point for us is very important and I think it was a fair result. We were better in first half, they were better in the second half.

"We have 12 games more now, it is still possible [to catch Al Ain], but their performances and Jazira's will be important. We have to recuperate 10 points and this competition is very difficult to win but we will keep up the fight until end."

It was an entertaining and energetic game and embellishing it with an outrageous bag of tricks was Ahli's latest recruit, the Portuguese international Ricardo Quaresma.

He only picked up a yellow card as statistic, but was an intriguing, roaming presence at the head of their formation, beginning with an outrageous rabona cross (from his standing foot) as early as the first minute. If he stays fit, he will be a frighteningly good addition to the club and the league.

The assessment of Sanchez Flores was correct; Ahli dominated the first half, Luis Jimenez's poached goal from a scuffed shot from Majed Hassan due reward for early endeavour.

But Jazira swamped them in the second half after tactical switches at the back and a more prominent Matias Delgado performance.

Two goals in eight minutes - including a rare Fernandinho strike - should have taken them home.

And they should have had more goals. Ali Mabkhout and Ricardo Oliveira both missed more than presentable chances, their coach Paolo Bonamigo later ruing their excitability with the last pass or shot.

As has happened so often to them this season, however, a late goal meant they rued not only the chances but two more points.

"We're very sad at letting that goal go, the very last moment of the match," Bonamigo said.

"It is difficult to explain [why it has happened so often]. We have to ask players to use their experience in these last moments of the match and to try and hold the ball better."

Bonamigo was still bullish about his side's chances of catching up with Al Ain, however.

"We still believe we can fight for the title," he said.

"We have 12 matches left, a difference of nine points which is three results so mathematically everything can happen.

"We are playing well but just don't have the luck right now.

"But we still believe."

EYE ON QUARESMA

Al Ahli's new playmaker, Ricardo Quaresma, was able to flash some of his ability in his first Pro League game.

First minute Ricardo Quaresma’s first touch, he controls down the left, second touch is an audacious rabona cross that just eludes his teammates in the six-yard box.

Second minute Quaresma cuts inside and shoots well over from 20 yards out.

10th minute Halfway into the Jazira half, Quaresma almost plays Ahmed Khalil through with a defence-splitting pass.

71st minute One on one, Quaresma runs at the defender, stops, back-heels to go past him but shoots straight at the goalkeeper. Booked immediately after for protesting a throw-in decision.

79th minute Plays an outrageous diagonal rabona pass to Adnan Al Beloshi into the right of the area which splits open the defence.

89th minute A bit of trickery on the right, including two step-overs, gets a corner. Ahli equalise at the end of this passage of sustained pressure.

osamiuddin@thenaional.ae

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