x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Relief for Olaroiu as Grafite scores winner for Al Ahli

Coach concedes his Dubai side were fortunate to beat superior Al Shaab 1-0 on Sunday night.

A goal from Grafite, centre, ensures Al Ahli are 12 points ahead of Al Shaab. Satish Kumar / The National
A goal from Grafite, centre, ensures Al Ahli are 12 points ahead of Al Shaab. Satish Kumar / The National

Al Ahli 1

Grafite 55’

Al Shaab 0

Man of the match

Ciel

DUBAI // A moment of quick-footed magic from Grafite was all that separated league leaders Al Ahli to bottom-placed Al Shaab on Sunday night in a close-fought match at Zabeel Stadium.

Twelve points separate the Dubai side to their Sharjah-based counterparts in the Arabian Gulf League standings on Monday morning, yet there was little sign of a gulf in class as Shaab made the title challengers work for all three points.

Ahli coach Cosmin Olariou conceded his side were fortunate. “We expected a difficult game and that is what we got from the beginning,” he said. “We made it more difficult for ourselves, but the important thing was to get he three points, which is what we wanted.”

For all Ahli’s financial muscle and high-profile foreign signings, it was Shaab who looked the more likely to open the scoring early on. Grafite, the prolific Brazilian forward, appeared isolated in attack while Luis Antonio Jimenez and Hugo Viana were largely anonymous in a first half frustratingly peppered with petty fouls and play-acting.

The best chance of the opening exchanges fell to Shaab’s Mohamed Malalla in the 15th minute, but having worked his way into space on the edge of the opposition area, the Emirati dragged his shot narrowly wide. Ten minutes later, he was guilty again: Michael Ndri showing impressive determination to get a cross in from the right flank, but Malalla’s header sailed wide.

“This is life when you are last-place in the league,” Marius Sumudica, the Shaab coach, said. “When you have five or six clear chances to score, but you don’t put the ball in the net, it’a s problem. For the chances that the team had, I think a draw – at least – would have been fair.”

Ahli grew stronger as the half-time whistle neared. First, Ciel sent Ismael Al Hammadi through on goal with a sublime slide-rule pass, but the Emirati winger’s tame shot was straight at Abdulla Mutaz. Then, on the stroke of half-time, Ciel, Ahli’s summer signing from Al Shabab, struck a curling drive from 25 yards, but it whistled just wide of the far post.

After the break, Grafite dropped deeper to link up with the midfield and the switch took only nine minutes to pay off. A foul on the edge of the area in the 54th minute saw Hugo Viana’s rasping drive acrobatically tipped over by Abdulla Mutaz, but the Shaab keeper then palmed a hopeful cross wide under little pressure to gift Ahli a second bite.

The resultant set-piece was only half-cleared and when Ciel shot into a crowded box, Grafite reacted quickest. The Brazilian, after controlling the ball somewhat fortuitously, with his knee, made no mistake with his second touch, sneaking an instinctive, classy back-heel through a sea of bodies and past the helpless Mutaz.

As Shaab chased the game, they left space in defence and Ciel should have done better when played through by Grafite, but the winger’s touch let him down and the ball ran out of play.

In the final minute, Mohammed Essa was shown a second yellow for dissent. “This is not what we wanted,” Sumudica added. “We hope to gain points as fast as possible, but it is a problem when you can’t field your first-choice 11.”

Results from other Sunday games

Al Ahli 1 Al Shaab 0

Al Ahli Grafite 55’

Red card Essa Mohammed (Al Shaab)

Grafite’s fourth goal in as many Arabian Gulf League games propelled Al Ahli to the top of the table and maintained their perfect start to the season. A game of few opportunities was eventually settled in the 55th minute by the Brazilian.

Al Ain 5 Dubai 2

Al Ain Ahmed 19’, Gyan 52’, 56’, 72’, Brosque 69’

Dubai Yaslam 48’, Traore 68’

Three goals from Asamoah Gyan gave new Al Ain coach Quique Sanchez Flores his first league win as the two-time defending league champions overwhelmed Dubai. Ismail Ahmed and Alex Brosque were also on target for Al Ain.

Sharjah 0 Al Dhafra 3

Al Dhafra Clottey 59’, Diop 63’, Chafni 69’

Al Dhafra picked up where they left off before the league’s three-week international break with a resounding victory away to Sharjah. Emmanuel Clottey opened the scoring on 59 minutes with his fourth goal of the campaign before further strikes from Makhete Diop and Kamel Chafni were added.

Baniyas 1 Al Wahda 1

Baniyas Munoz 85’

Al Wahda Al Kamali 90’

In a game with plenty of late tension, Carlos Munoz’s goal five minutes from time looked to have given Baniyas all three points, until Hamdan Al Kamali stabbed home a Hussein Fadhel cross on 90 minutes to earn Al Wahda a point.

gmeenaghan@thenational.ae