x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Scocco stars as Al Shabab and Al Ain share the spoils

Even with Gyan and Al Qahtani absent, and Milan playing down the road, the Argentine midfielder manages to put on a show in top-of-table clash.

Ignacio Scocco, right, starred for Al Ain the absence of two of the club's other foreign players Asamoah Gyan and Yasser Al Qahtani.
Ignacio Scocco, right, starred for Al Ain the absence of two of the club's other foreign players Asamoah Gyan and Yasser Al Qahtani.

DUBAI // Given that this was a potentially seminal meeting at the top of the Pro League between the UAE's two pre-eminent sides, it really should have been the only show in town last night.

Unfortunately for the players of Al Ain and Al Shabab, however, the small matter of an exhibition match between AC Milan and Paris Saint Germain at nearby Al Ahli meant it was not even the biggest event in the street.

The names may have been less luminous here than those of Pato, Robinho and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Even the floodlights seemed brighter down the road.

Al Ain's thunder was not entirely stolen, though. Their fervent travelling support clearly saw more appeal in cheering their team a step nearer to the title than trying to get in to see the stars of Europe.

And in Ignacio Scocco there was proof that there are a few gems knocking around the UAE's top division, too.

Scocco was without his usual foil in the Al Ain attack, the injured Asamoah Gyan as well as the mecurial Saudi international Yasser Al Qahtani, but he still ran the show for the visiting team.

The Argentine midfielder could have had a first half hat-trick. After dispatching an early penalty, he saw one drive flash past the left upright during open play, then a few minutes later curved a cute free-kick inches beyond the same post.

Scocco's efforts were enough to maintain his side's unbeaten record at the top of the division, but not quite enough to earn all three points.

Shabab were worthy of their share of the spoils, which they gained when Julio Cesar converted the second-half penalty he had earned after being fouled by Fawzi Fayez.

"It was not a spectacular performance, but our players worked very hard against a good Shabab side," Cosmin Olaroiu, the manager of the league-leading Al Ain, said.

Olaroiu's team have been thriving of late, and the performances of their players on the field have been matched by their supporters off it.

The staging of two high-profile fixtures more or less simultaneously, barely a mile apart, during rush hour in Dubai meant this match was a nightmare to get to.

The traffic snarl did not inhibit the Al Ain faithful, however. They travelled in their droves from the Garden City, and outnumbered their hosts by at least two to one. The singing remains as raucous as ever, and they have a striking new party piece, too. For much of the first-half, they all pointed the flashlights of their smartphones towards the pitch. It was like they were taking in a ballad at a rock concert.

Despite their following, it still qualified as an away point gained for Al Ain, and they were satisfied with the result.

"Getting a point at Shabab's stadium is like a win, because they are playing well and going for the title, too," Mohammed Salem, the Al Ain defender, said.

Paulo Bonamigo, Shabab's manager, also expressed satisfaction. "We played against the leader of the championship, and the power of Al Ain showed," the Brazilian coach said.

"We have to turn the page now and we are looking forward to the next game, against Al Nasr."

Elsewhere in the Pro League last night, Ajman won 3-1 at Sharjah and Nasr triumphed by the same scoreline at Emirates.

pradley@thenational.ae