x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Grafite on target for his goal at Al Ahli

Coach Quique Sanchez Flores insists striker is better than Asamoah Gyan.

Grafite has scored 17 goals for Al Ahli in the league this season, including three hat-tricks.
Grafite has scored 17 goals for Al Ahli in the league this season, including three hat-tricks.

DUBAI // As the Pro League approaches the midway stage, the defending champions, Al Ain, seem firmly ensconced at the top, already.

Their challengers have not quite given up hopes of winning the league plate, but they concede Cosmin Olaroiu's juggernaut might be unstoppable.

There is a more open and engrossing battle for the league's individual honours, though.

Al Ain's Asamoah Gyan, winner of last season's golden boot with 21 goals, is leading the scoring charts again.

The Ghanaian has found the net in each of Al Ain's 11 matches this season and has 20 goals.

In any other season, such a blitz would have assured Gyan of a comfortable lead at the top of the scorers' list, but Grafite is making sure it is not a one-man parade.

The Brazilian striker, who scored 30 goals in all competitions for Al Ahli last season, had promised a similar tally before the start of the campaign.

"I believe I can score 30 goals again, or even 35 this season," he said in September. "I have the quality to score more and that's what I work for."

He is delivering on that promise.

Grafite, 33, has played one fewer game than Gyan and has 17 goals.

He has also scored three hat-tricks this season, all of them against sides considered "big" - Al Ain, Al Wahda and Al Shabab.

Riding on his prolific form, Al Ahli have climbed to second on the points table.

Quique Sanchez Flores has no qualms in declaring Grafite as a more valuable player than Gyan.

"Of course we rely on him," said Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach. "Every club has players they rely on more than others - Al Ain have Gyan, Al Wasl have Emiliano Alfaro. But from my point of view, Grafite is better than Gyan."

Gyan, however, is not interested in these comparisons. "Grafite is a very good striker, a top player," the Ghanian told the Arabic daily Emarat Al Youm yesterday.

The Al Ain striker noted that Grafite led the Bundesliga with 28 goals for Wolfsburg in 2008/09 "playing in one of the toughest, defensively strong leagues in the world".

"So he is a player of great value, but I am not interested in these comparisons. My only concern is to help my team win and that is what I have come here for - to win trophies," Gyan said.

Grafite has the same desire, and the Brazilian will be hoping he can get on the score sheet again at Ajman tonight and help Ahli stay in second with three more points in the bank.

The visitors will be missing their Chilean playmaker Luis Jimenez through suspension.

Ahmed Khalil, the UAE striker, will get his third start of the season.

Ajman already have beaten Ahli this season, in the Etisalat Cup, and Abdulwahab Abdulqadir is hoping for a repeat, especially after their confidence-boosting draw at Al Nasr last week. "In my opinion, Ahli are the best team in Dubai this season and credit for that goes to their Spanish coach Sanchez Flores," said the Ajman coach.

"They are very different to the team we saw last season, but our recent results have given our players a lot confidence going into this game.

"So, while we respect Ahli, we are not scared of them and we will go all out for a positive result."

arizvi@thenational.ae