Al Jazira showed the mettle of champions last night after the Pro League leaders salvage a 1-1 draw when Juma Abdullah scored in the third minute of extra time.
Juma Abdullah goal breaks Baniyas hearts
BANIYAS // Battered, tired, ripe for the taking, Al Jazira showed the mettle of champions last night. With two of their South American stalwarts out of the match, weary from their emotional President's Cup victory four days before, the Pro League leaders salvaged a 1-1 draw when Juma Abdullah scored in the third minute of extra time.
Jazira did not get the knock-out blow they could have landed with a victory, but after their Argentine midfielder Matias Delgado went out with an injury and Bare, their Brazilian striker, sat down at half-time, they had to be ecstatic to take a point and remain unbeaten with six rounds left in the season.
What had looked like a huge victory for Baniyas, one that would have reopened the chase, instead left the rising Abu Dhabi side 10 points behind Jazira. The home side have all of their best players back after two months of struggling, and seemed inspired by the appointment of the Emirati Mahdi Ali as coach. And they were seconds from pinning the first defeat of the season on Jazira.
With Baniyas playing a man short after Amer Abdulrahman took a brainless red card in the 75th minute, Jazira threw everyone forward. The substitute Ahmed Juma carried the ball up the right and crossed it in the hope that someone in red would reach it.
And there was Abdullah, the lanky veteran, up from his central-defensive position, sliding in to push a shot into the goal, past Mohammed Ghuloom, and bringing Jazira fans in the north stand to their feet.
Baniyas had affirmed their control of the match in the 65th minute, and Theyab Awana, the active young midfielder, bulked large in the goal. He had tormented the Jazira left-back Khalid Sabeal all night, and 25 minutes from time he turned past him on the end line and crossed the ball in front of goal.
Ali Kasheif, Jazira's elite goalkeeper, dove out and pushed the ball away. But it went to Andre Senghor, who managed to retain control as Sami Rabea lunged in desperately. The Senegalese striker took one step left as Kasheif crawled after him and rocketed a point-blank shot into the back of the net, his league-best 15th of the season.
Cue an eruption from the Baniyas supporters among the home crowd of 6,753 on a windy night at the sparkling new stadium.
Baniyas were the better team from the opening kick-off. Not only were they taking shots on goal every few minutes, they did an excellent job of closing down the visitors' attacks before they got started.
Mustafa Kareem is not one of the better-known Baniyas players, but he buzzed around the goal in the first session, and only his inability to finish kept Jazira from trailing at the break. Kareem rolled an 18-yard shot off a rebound just left of goal on the 10th minute. Twenty minutes later, after a fine run up the flank by right-back Saqer Hammadi, Kareem got off a strong, low header off a cross, but Kasheif was there to block it. In the 43rd, he beat the offside trap and went in alone on Kasheif, who smothered a shot at the edge of the box.
Meantime, Baniyas defended with 11. Even Senghor worked from box to box. Jazira seemed surprised and then frustrated by the tactic, and they picked up a pair of cautions, including one on Ricardo Oliveiro for petulantly slamming the ball off the pitch.