x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Etisalat Cup round-up: Win over Al Shaab not enough to secure semi-final spot for Al Ain

Al Ain's reserve side gave fans hope for the future despite their 3-1 win leaving them sort of a semi-finals place, while Al Jazira scrabbled to a 4-4 draw at Al Dhafra.

Just 18 years old, Yousef Ahmad, No 65, was Al Ain's best player on the pitch against Al Shaab in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National
Just 18 years old, Yousef Ahmad, No 65, was Al Ain's best player on the pitch against Al Shaab in Sharjah. Pawan Singh / The National

Al Shaab 1 Al Ain 3

AL SHAAB Kaseke 32'

AL AIN Ahmad 29', 72', Malalla 43'

Man of the Match Yousef Ahmad

SHARJAH // Considering this was effectively Al Ain-lite, the future appears bright for the Pro League champions.

The Garden City club, beginning the final round of the Etisalat Cup still with an outside chance of progressing to the semi-finals, chose to field a reserve side for the encounter with Al Shaab, yet it did not knock them from their stride.

Shaab, although missing players of calibre, too, were free from top-flight tribulations - they are currently involved in a battle to retain league status - so the tie at the Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium should have been played without customary pressures.

A glance at the opposition team sheet suggested they might even enjoy it.

Al Ain deployed their B-Brigade; on the bench sat the boys' brigade.

The five outfield substitutes, no doubt talented, seemed impossibly young to be contesting a professional tussle, their combined age reading a barely believable 94.

Given the fresh faces and heavily gelled hair, if careers in football do not take off they could always turn hands to Arab Idol; an Emirati One Direction, if you will.

There was a distinct lack of x-factor on the pitch, as well.

Cosmin Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach - also absent last night - has continually groaned about his side's congested schedule, with the President's Cup, Pro League and Asian Champions League assuming varying degrees of priority.

The Champions League remains the most desirable, and the omission here of every player who contended last Wednesday's clash with Esteghlal reinforced the cup's second-class citizenship. Later in the night, Al Shabab's victory over Ajman knocked Al Ain out of the tournament.

In all, the collective that took to the field boasted as many 2012/13 league appearances as Filipe Teixeira, the Shaab striker. He joined the club six weeks ago.

However, youthful exuberance can be a powerful ally.

A motivation to impress was best personified by Yousef Ahmad, the 18-year-old striker who produced two cool finishes to sandwich an equaliser from Noel Kaseke, Shaab's dreadlocked Zimbabwean, and a close-range effort from Abdullah Malalla, at age 29 Al Ain's most senior figure present.

"It's good for the future of the team and the players," said Ahmed Ali, the assistant standing in for Olaroiu. "It gives them experience they didn't have and the moral support to make the first team. It was a fine display."

For his opposite number, Marius Sumudica, it is back to the stresses and strains of a relegation fight. "Because we'd only one point, we used this as training," he said. "The league is the most important, fighting against other teams to stay in the first division."

Other results

Fernandinho’s goal three minutes from time salvaged a 4-4 draw for Al Jazira against 10-man Al Dhafra but left the capital club still looking for their first victory in five matches under the Spanish coach Luis Milla.

Jazira have lost twice and drawn three times since Milla took over from Paulo Bonamigo, on February 22, and have conceded 12 goals.

Ricardo Oliveira scored twice for Jazira, who played most of their first XI and also benefited from a Dhafra own goal, as well as the sending off of Mahmoud Awadh in the 71st minute.

Richard Porta and Rodrigo Vergilio scored as Dubai defeated Al Nasr 2-0, while Edward Sadomba and Mohammed Mallala found the net in Kalba’s 2-1 victory over Baniyas, who got a goal from Fawaz Awana.

Al Ahli avoided finishing bottom of Group C by defeating Dibba Al Fujairah 2-1. Luis Jimenez and Abdullah Ali scored for the winners.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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