x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Grafite saves the best for last for Al Ahli

Grafite records a double in Ahli’s 2-1 win over Al Wahda, signaling that the battle for the Arabian Gulf League’s golden-boot award should be as engrossing as the title race in the coming months.

Al Ahli's Grafite watches as he slips the ball past Al Wahda goal keeper Adel Alhosani for one of his two goals on the night to lead Ahli. Sarah Dea / The National
Al Ahli's Grafite watches as he slips the ball past Al Wahda goal keeper Adel Alhosani for one of his two goals on the night to lead Ahli. Sarah Dea / The National

AL AHLI 2

AL WAHDA 1

Al Ahli Grafite 45’+2, 90’+1 Al Wahda Tagliabue 09’

Man of Match Grafite (Al Ahli)

DUBAI // With two of the Arabian Gulf League’s top contenders on the pitch, this game should have been a celebration of football.

A particularly night, however, made that impossible.

The Al Ahli fans will not be complaining, though, about Friday night’s events.

First, they had three points to celebrate and then, on the same night as Asamoah Gyan’s two-goal performance for Al Ain, Grafite recorded a double in Ahli’s 2-1 win over Al Wahda. The battle for the league’s golden-boot award, then, should be as engrossing as the title race in the coming months.

Ahli, who needed a 93rd-minute winner from Ahmed Khalil in their opening league game at Dubai, now have six points from two matches, while Wahda have three from their 3-2 win over Al Nasr in the opening round.

In high humidity, when the players seemed exhausted after completing the warm-up period, playing at full steam was beyond question, if you will.

But a school-boyish error from the Ahli defence allowed Al Wahda to take an early lead.

As centre-back Yousuf Al Sayed tried to block Sebastian Tagliabue from reaching the ball, Ahli goalkeeper Saif Yousuf charged out of the box, but instead of clearing the ball, he crashed into his team-mate.

This allowed Tagliabue, who had given Al Sayed a little nudge into the goalkeeper, an open goal, but the Argentine almost wasted that opportunity – a deflection off the far post saved him and the ball trickled into the net.

The Ahli fans must have really missed the injured goalkeeper, Majed Naser, at that moment. There seemed to be little synergy between gloveman Yousuf and the Ahli defenders.

Wahda almost scored a second in the 26th minute, when Suhail Al Mansoori sneaked in at the far corner to nod a cross towards the goal.

A diving Yousuf, however, did well this time to get his hand to the ball.

By the half-hour mark, the heat was really taking a toll on the players and the referee, Hamad Al Hashmi, stopped play to allow players to replenish their liquids.

Coming back from that brief break, Ahli looked a lot sharper and their efforts paid off in the first-half’s added time when the referee decided Hussain Fadel had handled the ball as he slid into a tackle on Ciel.

Replays showed the ball had deflected into his hands. Taking the penalty, Grafite shot into the post, but managed to put the rebound into the back of the net.

Ahli could have taken the lead in the 51st minute, but both Grafite and Ismail Al Hammadi failed to get a connection on Ciel’s cross across the goal.

The hosts were in control of the second half, with players of the calibre of Hugo Viana, Adnan Hussain and Ahmed Khalil coming off the bench to add a bit more muscle to their attack, and their domination paid off in the end as Grafite latched on to a Ciel cross and lodged the ball into the far corner.

*

*

OTHER RESULTS

*

Emirates 2, Dubai 3

Emirates Jair 34’, Hadef Saif 74’ Dubai Cesar 20’, Traore 36’, Hussain 90+3’

Khalid Hussain, a 17-year-old midfielder who came on in the 72nd minute, scored his first league goal, in added time, to give Dubai the win at Ras Al Khaimah. Brazil’s Bruno Cesar, above, and the Mali national Dramane Traore each gave Dubai a lead, but Emirates twice levelled, through the Brazilian Jair and the captain Hadef Saif. Seven cautions were given by referee Fahad Al Kassar, four to Emirates.

Baniyas 0, Al Dhafra 0

After a victory at home over Al Dhafra in their league opener, Baniyas remained unbeaten with four points from their opening two games. Al Dhafra registered their first point of the campaign after an opening-day defeat, yet neither team could find a way to breach the opposition defence. Carlos Munoz thought he had scored the winner for the home side in injury time when he rose to head home past Dhafra goalkeeper Abdullah Sultan, but the referee’s assistant on the far side had already raised his flag to signal for a foul.

arizvi@thenational.ae