x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Imad Khalili makes an impression for Saudis

Imad Khalili, the attacking midfielder for Saudi Arabia's Al Shabab, is a formidable threat to Al Jazira as the UAE club visit Riyadh in the Asian Champions League on Tuesday night,.

Wherever the wandering career of Imad Khalili takes him, there are goals.

The Al Shabab attacking midfielder, a formidable threat to Al Jazira as the UAE club take on the Saudis at Riyadh in the Asian Champions League tonight, is in the form of his life.

His spectacular, soloist strike in Saturday’s 2-1 win over Al Nasr made it four goals in three starts since he joined Al Shabab in January. All have been game-changers.

Khalili, who turns 27 next month, is consistently living up to the excellent potential spotted in him as a teenager.

He has had a challenging life.

His back story is one of perpetual motion, so nobody should be surprised to know that he is to return to Helsingborgs and Europe when his loan spell at the Saudi Pro League club ends in several weeks.

He has already guaranteed he will leave a strong mark.

Khalili is a Palestine international, a patriotic commitment he made as a young man with international potential.

He was born in Dubai.

He has spent most of his life in Sweden and won caps for that country at Under 17, Under 19 and Under 21 levels.

Shaped by the experiences of his parents and grandparents, he chose to spearhead Palestine’s efforts to establish themselves as an entity in international football.

His grandparents left the territory soon after Israel’s formation and the occupation. They made a life first in Lebanon. From there Khalili’s parents moved to Dubai.

When their son was a child, they sought, as refugees, a more stable future in Sweden. There, young Imad’s talent with a ball brought him to the attention of Hogaborgs, a small club in Helsingborg with a fame for nourishing junior excellence.

Henrik Larsson, of Celtic, Barcelona, Manchester United and more than 100 Sweden caps, is probably their most famous graduate.

Khalili was inspired by Larsson – not only by his legend but by his guidance.

As a 15 year old in the junior ranks at top-flight Helsingborgs, Khalili flew to Glasgow and spent a few days as Larsson’s guest, watching him win a Uefa Cup semi-final and listening to his advice on becoming a successful pro.

The lessons stuck with him.

Khalili was a precocious debutant with Helsingborgs but a perception that he needed to firm up the defensive side of his game led them to loan him out to lesser clubs and abroad, where he spent time in Denmark.

At 21, he signed for Norrkoping. It was the move that would establish him as one of the most exciting players in Swedish domestic football. Helsingborgs wanted him back last year and he saw the opportunity for a genuine tilt at the title with his former employers.

Helsingborgs finished fifth but Khalili had galvanised them.

He finished as the top goalscorer in the past season in the Alsvenskan – Sweden’s top division – that ended in November.

Al Shabab intend to make the most of his short spell with them, already grateful for his match-winning goal in their opening Champions League group game, the 1-0 victory away at Iran’s Esteghlal.

Helsingborgs would also be anticipating that they will receive further offers from various parts of the world for Palestine’s figurehead footballer come the summer.

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Zenga wants improvement

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Al Jazira face one of their biggest tests of the season when they take on Al Shabab away in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday night at the King Fahd International Stadium. Both teams head into the game with a win in their first group match. Walter Zenga’s men nearly surrendered a 2-0 lead at home to Al Rayyan of Qatar before winning 3-2 at home two weeks ago. “I’m really sad and disappointed by the performance we had in that match as I expected a better performance, and it is my responsibility for the performance and the mistakes that we made during the match,” Zenga said of the match against Al Rayyan. “The goals that we scored in the beginning of the match were perfect, but the team turned defensive and I was personally not satisfied. We must fix the mistakes that we made.” In the group’s other game, Esteghlal take on Al Rayyan in Doha.

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Gulf Clubs Cup: Short-handed Al Nasr also have Toure missing

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Missing some key players through injury, Al Nasr received another blow ahead of Tuesday’s Gulf Club Championship match in Bahrain against Al Busaiteen when Senegalese striker Ibrahima Toure pulled out of the trip with a knee problem. Toure felt pain in his knee ahead of the team’s departure on Sunday and, after a check-up, the player was advised to take a week’s rest to avoid aggravating the injury. His absence leaves Nasr, who beat Qatar’s Al Khor 5-0 in the opening game, with only two foreign players – Leonardo Lima and Brett Holman – as Brazilian winger Eder Luis is out for six months following knee cartilage transplant surgery. Four other players – Khalid Ibrahim, Yousuf Abdullah, Rashid Malallah and Younis Ahmed – are also unavailable because of injury. Tonight’s game kicks off at 7.35pm UAE time at Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.

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