x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Al Nasr 0 Al Ain 2

Goals from Jires Kembo Ekoko and Asamoah Gyan, both brilliant for varying reasons, have catapulted their club into a seemingly unassailable lead.

Jires Kembo Ekoko, right, the Al Ain forward, caused the Al Nasr defence problems throughout the night as the Pro League champions beat their hosts 2-0 in Dubai. Mike Young / The National
Jires Kembo Ekoko, right, the Al Ain forward, caused the Al Nasr defence problems throughout the night as the Pro League champions beat their hosts 2-0 in Dubai. Mike Young / The National
DUBAI // If only the Pro League could be like this every week.
A heaving crowd at Al Maktoum Stadium lending a raucous tone, the division's preeminent players conducting the tune through speed of thought and fleet of foot, and a couple of strikes worthy of settling even the most meaningful of matches.
In the context of the domestic season, though, perhaps this constituted just that. Al Nasr and Al Ain, the last campaign's two most effective sides, tussled last night for the first time in 2012/13 as the league prepares to call a temporary halt to its frenetic first half.
Perhaps the fixture list was saving the best for last.
Nasr began the match nine points adrift of the defending champions, but there remains the notion Walter Zenga's side will again endure longer than Al Ain's other title rivals.
That is, if anyone still represents a realistic threat. Goals from Jires Kembo Ekoko and Asamoah Gyan, both brilliant for varying reasons, have catapulted their club into a seemingly unassailable lead.
At seven points clear, outscoring by 17 the second most prolific side in the country, and Gyan already one short of last season's golden boot-winning tally: Al Ain appear to be cruising to an 11th top-flight crown.
"We won a very important game against one of the strongest teams, in my opinion the best defensively organised team," said Cosmin Olaroiu, their coach. "But we took advantage of the opportunities we created.
"I can only congratulate my players for the first part of the championship. I hope they'll keep the same concentration and attitude for the next games."
His opposite number, however, having been quoted last week as saying only losing their bus in traffic could derail Al Ain's title quest, refused the opportunity to again talk up his Garden City counterparts. If he did at all in the first place.
"It's not really my problem, especially when I spoke about this the last time, and what I said was misunderstood and turned around in the opposite way," Zenga said. "So I will not be commenting further."
He did choose to elaborate on the game, insisting Nasr were punished for a single mistake made, Nashat Akram denied a "clear penalty" at 1-0 and Al Ain's second notched by arguably the league's most dangerous forward.
"After that I didn't see much from Al Ain," Zenga said. "But there is no doubt they have a lot of skilled players in attack and one of the best strikers in the league. They paid a lot of money for him and he's proved his worth.
"For Nasr, we will only work towards the next game."
The match was still in its infancy, the confetti still swirling around the ground, when Al Ain cemented their superiority. The ball had squirmed from Giuseppe Mascara's grasp for Kembo Ekoko to pounce, the Frenchman driving at Helal Saeed before bewitching the Nasr defender with a faint and a shimmy and finding the bottom corner of the net.
Yet, despite their advantage, it was the hosts who grew in composure, Leonardo Lima sending a half volley narrowly over before Akram's strong case for a penalty. Then, as Nasr advanced, Al Ain struck the hammer blow. Kembo Ekoko played in Omar Abdulrahman who nudged the ball to Gyan, the Ghanaian unleashing a powerful drive high into the top corner. It was his 21st goal in 13 games.
"He's our player, and we're glad he's our player," said Olaroiu. "But more than that he's a good character. Gyan is the type of player everyone would like to have."
An even second half was punctuated by Abdulrahman and Gyan going close before Mirel Radoi, the Romanian midfielder, tried his luck from the halfway line. Maybe he heard the David Beckham rumours, too.
The final whistle drew close to the increasing soundtrack of the Al Ain support, who continued the celebrations outside the stadium and presumably long into the night.
Olaroiu, however, would not have led the festivities.
"For us, the [Asian] Champions League is coming up, the Presidents Cup and also the second part of the league," he said. "There are a lot of games, so it won't be easy to keep the same level. That's why we've tried to gain an advantage now.
"But in my opinion the league is not finished. It is a mistake to even think it."
 
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