x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Gyan and Scocco power Al Ain to the top of the Pro League table

The Ghana international's goal-scoring prowess has proved wonders for a once dominant club who beat Al Ahli 2-0 on Tuesday night.

Asamoah Gyan, left, the Al Ain forward who is on loan from Sunderland, scored an acrobatic goal against Al Ahli on Tuesday night.
Asamoah Gyan, left, the Al Ain forward who is on loan from Sunderland, scored an acrobatic goal against Al Ahli on Tuesday night.

DUBAI // The Pro League should consider itself duly warned: Al Ain are back.

The country's most decorated club, with nine league plates and the country's only continental championship, returned to the top of the domestic table for the first time in years after a convincing 2-0 victory over Al Ahli on Tuesday night.

The three points from the make-up game, postponed from last month, lifted Al Ain to 17 points, one more than Al Jazira, the defending champions.

Jazira's loss to Al Shabab last week, in tandem with Shabab's 1-0 defeat away to Sharjah on Tuesday night, leaves Al Ain as the only unbeaten side in the league, with a record of five victories and two draws in seven games.

Asamoah Gyan is not the only catalyst of the Al Ain renaissance, but he is the logical place to start.

The 26-year-old Ghana international, on loan from Sunderland, the English Premier League side, scored a wonderfully acrobatic goal in the 20th minute to get Al Ain off on the right foot.

The goal was Gyan's seventh, making him co-leader in the top-scorers chart with Ricardo Oliveira, of Al Jazira. He managed it by running onto a long pass from the back, hurdling Yousuf Abdullah, the Ahli goalkeeper, who was charging off his line, and Gyan somehow managed to keep his balance, banging the goal home with his left foot as he fell down.

Gyan has been every bit as good as advertised, and Al Ain are the richer for it. Sunderland, meanwhile, must still be pondering how they allowed the World Cup striker to finagle a one-year stretch in the UAE, which he says he is committed to serving.

Al Ain doubled their lead in the 46th minute, when Ignacio Scocco, the Argentine midfielder, took another pass from the back and went in alone on Abdullah, who had no chance as Scocco slotted it home.

Al Ain's resurgence comes just one season after they flirted with relegation, needing a late rush to avoid the drop to the First Division.

They have reorganised under a new board and new chief executive, Carlo Nohra. The club hired the fiery Romanian Cosmin Olaroiu, and subsequently acquired several prominent foreigners.

Mirel Radoi, also a Romanian, has turned into the playmaking midfielder the club direly needed, in the absence of Omar Abdulrahman, the ingenious Emirati who is rehabilitating from knee surgery.

Yasser Al Qahtani, the prolific Saudi Arabian and national side captain, joined Scocco and Gyan in an Al Ain side that retained several strong national players, including Ali Al Wehaibi, the veteran winger, Fares Jumaa, the burly central defender who is soon dangerous on corners; and the goalkeeper Walid Salem, who has surrendered only six goals in seven league matches.

The club also added the veteran Helal Saeed, who returned to the Garden City after several seasons with Jazira, and has provided a settling presence in midfield.

Ahli, meanwhile, continue to search for positive momentum. They have four points from four league matches since the arrival of the Spaniard Quique Sanchez Flores, who succeeded the Czech Ivan Hasek as coach.

They were a fashionable choice to win the league, back in September, after the acquisition of the former Wolfsburg standout striker Grafite, and the dynamic winger Jackson Coelho, as well as Luis Jimenez, the Chilean midfielder.

But their slow start cost Hasek his job, and they find themselves mired in the lower half of the table, with Sanchez Flores struggling to get a sense of his club.

Ahli had few attacks that resulted in anything resembling a real chance.

Al Ain, meanwhile, was a delight to their fans, who travelled en masse, as they did back in their glory days; indeed, Al Ain had more supporters than did the home side, after the official supporter group organised a caravan for the long drive.

The leaders will face a test to their new supremacy when they travel to Jazira next week.

Jazira know they will have a fight on their hands.


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