x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Title race still wide open, says Al Shabab's Bonamigo

The Brazilian coach believes Al Shabab can still challenge for the title after his side broke their win drought with a battling 3-2 victory at Al Ahli.

Al Ahli, in red, defend a ball into their penalty area as Al Shabab go on the attack in Dubai last night.
Al Ahli, in red, defend a ball into their penalty area as Al Shabab go on the attack in Dubai last night.

DUBAI // Paulo Bonamigo believes Al Shabab can still challenge for the title after his side broke their win drought with a battling 3-2 victory at Al Ahli last night.

Shabab have slipped to fourth from second in the Pro League table after claiming only three points from their last four games, but the win over arch-rivals Ahli, according to Bonamigo, will give the players a massive confidence boost, both in the domestic campaign and Saturday's AFC Champions League play-off match against the Uzbek club Neftchi Ferghana.

"These are three very important points," said the Brazilian.

"It will certainly motivate the players going forward. We know the importance of these three points, especially when you win a game like that.

"Playing against Ahli is always a difficult challenge and this was a particularly emotional game because both teams were playing for a win and three points. I believe we managed to entertain our fans and deserve these three points, especially after our performance in the second half."

Walid Abbas played a part in both Shabab's first-half goals, earning a penalty that Ciel converted and then scoring two minutes after Achille Emana had equalised for Ahli in the 37th minute. A contentious penalty for Ahli, however, put the hosts back on level terms, but Kieza, Shabab's new Brazilian recruit, settled the gamee with 16 minutes left.

The win takes Shabab's tally to 24 points, six behind the leaders Al Ain, and Bonamigo still fancies his team's chances of contesting the league championship.

"We will keep trying our best," Bonamigo said. "We believe this season is not going to be like the last [when Al Jazira cantered to the title]. No doubt Al Ain are performing really well, but I believe the championship is still open and these three points give us the motivation to go for better results."

The first goal came after Badr Abdulrehman brought Abbas down and the Brazilian Ciel coolly converted from the spot for his seventh goal of the season. Ahli shifted gears after that and Emana equalised with a stinging volley on 37th minutes.

Shabab were back in the lead two minutes later when Abbas squeezed the ball in from a tight angle. The visitors should have taken that one-goal advantage into the break, but Mohammed Al Zarouni, the referee, gifted Ahli a penalty in the second minute of added time and Grafite, yet another Brazilian on the pitch, levelled the scores.

After a period of inactivity in the second half, Kieza opened his Pro League, converting a Ciel cross in the 74th minute.

Ahli are in seventh position on 17 points and Quique Sanchez Flores, their coach, complained about the lack of consistency in his team's recent performances and the absence of crucial players at regular intervals.

"Luck has not been with us because we have lost important players like Luis Jimenez [because of suspension] and Amer Mubarak [with an injury after just 10 minutes of yesterday's match]," said the Spaniard.

"Now we have lost Grafite and Ismail Al Hammadi for the next match [because of their bookings]. We are in a difficult situation, so we need to have a rethink and work harder.

"The important thing here will be o look ahead and not think about what has happened in the past. We have to keep working on our mistakes.

"Today, we lost the war in the midfield and it is very important to show our presence in the midfield."

 

arizvi@thenational.ae