A brace from Luis Jimenez saved an Al Ahli side lacking energy and missing Jakson Coelho and Yousuf Mohammed to injury, and Khalid Mohammed to suspension.
Jimenez brace saves listless Ahli
The Chile international broke the deadlock in the 71st minute and doubled the score from a free kick 13 minutes later to secure Ahli all three points.
Embarrassed 4-0 by Al Jazira in their Pro League opener last week, the Ahli players began the match a bit over cautious and subdued. That may have been in part due to their absentees.
The energy that Jakson Coelho usually brings to the midfield was missing; the Brazilian out with an injury he picked up during the GCC semi-final match on Tuesday against Kazma in Kuwait.
Also out were Yousuf Mohammed, Ahli's Lebanese central defender, who injured his shoulder in the same game, and Khalid Mohammed due to suspension.
The mid-week match initially appeared to have taken a toll on Ahli, but the first chance of the match fell the home side's way with Grafite just missing with a header in the fifth minute.
Minutes later, a defensive error gifted him the ball and the Brazilian crossed for Jimenez, but the Chilean failed to reach it.
Ahli showed a lot more intent after the break. Faisal Khalil could have done better with a header in the 55th minute.
Two minutes later, he spun to unleash a shot on the turn, but the Emirates goalkeeper, Ahmed Al Shaji, had the ball covered.
Jimenez finally got them off the mark in the 71st minute, stealing the ball from Khairi Al Hammadi and controlling the bounce beautifully before tapping home.
The former Inter Milan schemer then sealed victory with a superbly taken free kick that gave Al Shaji no chance.
BOTH SIDES SEE POSITIVES
Emirates probably have a fraction of the budget that some of the Pro League’s bigger clubs enjoy, but Ghazi Al Ghurairi, the coach, has promised his team will not be short of fighting spirit against the bigger sides this season.
Emirates stunned Al Wahda 3-2 in their last match of the Etisalat Cup before starting their Pro League campaign with a 2-1 win over Dubai. But last night, they conceded twice in the final 19 minutes to go down 2-0 at Al Ahli.
To make matters worse for Al Ghurairi, his striker, Al Hassan Keita, left with his left arm in a brace after the game, joining an increasing list of injured players at the promoted Ras Al Khaimah club.
“We will just have to work with what we have now,” said Al Ghurairi. “We cannot buy a lot of players, nor can we afford the big, expensive star players. We are a small club, but our target is to build on the good performance we showed in Asia last year.
“Our target is to stay in the Pro League this season and become stronger as our young players gain experience from playing at this level.
“Injuries are part of the game. They happen. We just have to manage this situation as best as we can, with patience. We will try our best with what we have.”
Emirates will host Sharjah in their next Pro League match on Friday, and Al Ghurairi is hoping Keita and the others on the injury list will recover by then.
“We will work hard and get ready for Sharjah,” he said. “Hopefully, we will get some of our players back as well. We don’t know how serious Keita’s injury is, but let’s hope we will get him back soon.
“We have played two league matches and four Etisalat Cup matches [won two and drawn one, lost three], and I believe the team are looking good. Of course, we have a lot of injuries and that has been a problem, but we have tried to keep all our players ready. This is a long season, with a lot of matches, and we might need the players at any time.”
Emirates looked good to share the spoils at Ahli yesterday until Luis Jimenez broke the deadlock following a defensive error in the 71st minute. The Chilean then won, and superbly executed, a free kick to give the home side a 2-0 win.
“We did not play a very exciting game, but the important thing is we fought it out till the end and won the match,” said Ivan Hasek, the Ahli coach. “We did not panic after not scoring in the first 70 minutes, and that is always a good sign for a coach.
“People may think ‘this is Emirates’, but there are no easy matches in the Pro League. Every team is tough, with lots of good players. “We had our chances at the start, but we could not score. We also used a lot of our young players in this match and their performance is a good sign for the future of Ahli.”