Luis Jimenez scores late goal, which made all the difference in and back-and-forth battle between Dubai rivals while Kalba blow lead in draw with Al Wasl, writes John McAuley.
Pro League round-up: Al Ahli sneak past Al Nasr with injury-time goal
Al Nasr 2 Al Ahli 3
Al Nasr Mascara 18’, 53’
Al Ahli Quaresma 45’, Al Hammadi 75’, Jimenez 90’+2
Man of the match Ismail Al Hammadi (Al Ahli)
The classic Blues against the Reds, Friday night's tussle at the Al Maktoum Stadium was provided extra incentive, given what is at stake: with the title race run five rounds early, Asian Champions League qualification remains a viable alternative for both.
Ahli arrived across town with the superior standing, second in the table behind Al Ain, the recently confirmed champions, and in Grafite, Luis Jimenez and Ricardo Quaresma boast probably the division's second-best attacking trident.
Nasr enjoyed third place and runner-up finishes, in the previous two seasons under Walter Zenga, and those results perhaps distorted expectations at a club who last won the UAE's top flight in 1986. Despite their perceived problems, Nasr are themselves in form, unbeaten in five, with four victories reigniting seemingly forlorn hopes of another top-two finish.
Extra security was evident pre-match, not a nod to exceptional hostilities between the combatants, but instead a consequence of a high-profile incident earlier this month when an Ahli supporter forced the early termination of a match against Al Ain. The referee's assistant was struck with an object thrown from the stand, Ahli stung with a hefty penalty.
There was no such animosity here, though, a scattering of away fans remaining largely subdued as Nasr, spurred on by their heavier support, continued their good fortune. The chanting and the clapping constant, the hosts responded with a period of incisive passing, sugarcoated by the sweetest of free kicks from Giuseppe Mascara.
The Italian is forever toasted in his native Sicily for a wondrous strike in the 2009 derby between his then-club Catania and Palermo, the Serie A side's old enemy. Mascara, loitering around the halfway line, sent an impromptu volley high into the heavens of Stadio Renzo Barbera before it found home beyond Palermo's backtracking goalkeeper. It sparked a 4-0 triumph.
His latest goal for Nasr – a 13th since last summer's recruitment – may not have matched the mastery, but it gifted his side an advantage on 18 minutes. Addressing the ball about 25 yards from the Ahli goal, Mascara exorcised the same technique currently favoured by football's more recognisable names – say a Cristiano Ronaldo or a Gareth Bale – and thumped his dipping effort past a rooted Majed Naser.
Nasr, with tails up, played out the rest of the first-half as deserved leaders, until they were made to pay for wandering minds seconds before the break. Ricardo Quaresma, the Portuguese winger once considered Ronaldo's coequal, has frustrated during his brief cameo at Ahli, yet he reinforced his once-great reputation with a thunderbolt from just outside the Nasr penalty area.
Collecting on the chest Ismail Al Hammadi's searching long-range pass, Quaresma cut inside from the left flank to unleash his powerful drive inside the near post. In an instant, the bleached blond hair and the blue boots found merit. Nasr began the second half in much the same mode as the first, and eight minutes in were rewarded again by Mascara's set-piece expertise. It was a carbon copy of his opener, only this time Naser connected with a flailing arm.
However, Al Hammadi soon drew Ahli level with his second sublime strike in two weeks.
With the Nasr defence retreating, the diminutive winger jinked into the box and curled his shot around Ahmed Shambieh. There was time still for Ahli to snatch the victory, Jimenez sending a dubiously awarded free-kick past Shambieh in injury time. Zenga was furious, confronting the referee and held back by his staff before he was sent to the stands. As it happens, it represented the only real enmity in this battle of Dubai's not-so-nasty neighbours.
Kalba blow two-goal lead in draw with Al Wasl
The substitute Mohammed Naser scored his second goal for the Dubai club, in the 88th minute, to leave each side with one point. Kalba edged up to 11 points, but are still eight points from safety, and the clubs just ahead of them, Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Shaab, each have a game in hand. Abdullah Al Jamhi got the first for Kalba, just before half time, and Edward Sadomba, the striker from Zimbabwe, doubled the lead in the 49th minute with a nicely taken shot into the upper corner of the goal.
However, Naser came on for Hassan Yousuf on the rainy evening and pulled one back in the 52nd minute. Naser had not scored a league goal for the first team this season, before last night; he had 15 for Wasl’s reserve team, however.
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