UAE Pro League side show no signs of fatigue with 3-1 win over Ajman as Al Ain are denied a place in last four of football competition. Ahmed Rizvi reports.
Victory over Ajman sends Al Shabab through to Etisalat Cup semi-finals
Ajman 1 Al Shabab 3
AJMAN Driss Fettouhi 51(pen)
AL SHABAB Edgar Bruno 16, Azizbek Haydarov 33, Luiz Henrique 72
Man of the Match Azizbek Haydarov
Playing their fourth game in 15 days, Shabab showed no signs of fatigue, taking early charge when Edgar Bruno put them ahead in the 16th minute.
Azizbek Haydarov made it 2-0 before the break. A penalty early in the second half allowed Ajman to come back into the game, but Luiz Henrique put the issue beyond doubt with Shabab's third, in the 72nd minute.
The win confirms Shabab's place in the last-four of the tournament as Group C toppers with 14 points, while Ajman (12 points) go through as the best runners-up, finishing ahead of Al Ain on a better goal difference – plus seven to plus four.
The Pro League leaders, who have reached the semis of the President's Cup, needed Ajman to win the game to progress as the best runners-up after finishing second behind Al Wahda in Group A.
Needing a win or a draw to qualify for the semis, Shabab clearly seemed more interested in the first of those two options and made an attacking start. They had failed to get a win in their previous four games and that perhaps provided the impetus.
The visitors could have taken the lead as early as the third minute if Bruno had managed to connect with Ciel's cross.
Bruno came close again with a header two minutes later, but the Ajman keeper Yousuf Abdullah managed to keep the ball out. In the seventh minute, Essa Obaid put the ball into the back of the net, but he was offside.
Shabab, however, were not to be denied in the 16th minute. Their efforts paid off when Bruno sneaked in at the far post to tap home a rebound off the Ajman keeper.
Haydarov added the second in the 33rd minute, blasting the ball into the net from the edge of the area. The Uzbek was not expected to play because of international duty, but a delay in the arrival of his national team for their 2015 Asian Cup qualifier against the UAE in Abu Dhabi on Friday allowed the midfielder to take to the pitch last night.
Marcos Paqueta, the Shabab coach - missing the UAE internationals Walid Abbas and Hassan Ibrahim - desperately wanted to keep Haydarov for the game and the Uzbek's performance made it clear why.
Haydarov was all over the pitch, turning in one of his best performances of recent times and the goal was a just reward.
A penalty allowed Driss Fettouhi to pull one back for Ajman in the 51st minute, but Shabab were not happy with the referee Abdullah Al Harthi's decision. The official pointed to the spot after a collision between Mohammed Marzooq and Founeke Sy, but the Shabab defender had got the ball before Sy crashed into him from behind.
Shabab were unfortunate not to restore their two-goal lead in the 56th minute when Luiz Henrique shot into the post, but the Brazilian did get his name on the score sheet in the 72nd minute.
Shabab are out of contention in the league, and have suffered two defeats to start the Asian Champions League, but they are in the final four of both the President's Cup and Etisalat Cup.
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