x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Winning start for a dour Shabab

Al Shabab opened the defence of their league title on Saturday night in a manner reminiscent of their victorious campaign of last season.

Al Shabab's Marcos Assuncao is shown a red card.
Al Shabab's Marcos Assuncao is shown a red card.

Al Shabab opened the defence of their league title on Saturday night in a manner reminiscent of their victorious campaign of last season. There were no frills or thrills, but a battling and workman-like show that earned them three points against Al Shaab As Al Ain dazzled at home and Al Ahli bloomed at Al Nasr, Shabab were dogged and dour in a comfortable 2-0 win over Al Shaab, despite their numerical disadvantage after captain Marcos Assuncao was sent off in the 54th minute for a second yellow card.

Shabab's strategy was a lot like a matador's - exhausting their opponent's physical and mental reserves, bit by bit, before delivering the sudden coup de grace. Waleed Abbas opened the scoring in the 30th minute, volleying a rebound through the crowded area after a Carlos Renato corner. Saleem Saad then scored a second in the 70th minute for the 10-men. Sprinting past the offside trap and drawing out the Shaab keeper Ramadan Malallah, he flicked the ball across the face of the goal and it deflected off the defender Jabir Abdulla into the net.

Shabab's coach Toninho Cerezo was impressed with the performance. "A game against Shaab is always a very difficult match," said the Brazilian. "They have always made us work hard, and today it was no different. So I am happy with our performance. The league has just started and we know we are going to face lots of difficult matches ahead." The only worry for Cerezo was the red card for Assuncao. He will miss Thursday's game at Al Sharjah. Cerezo said: "We have other players who have the quality and spirit to do Assuncao's job. We have [Mehrdad] Oladi and Dawoud [Ali]. They have a mission and they will be ready for it."

Shaab had their chances but failed to take them. Nabeel Ibrahim missed their best opportunity when he flicked wide in the 11th minute and Merouane Zemmama was unlucky in the 48th minute when he hit the bar. Their coach Luka Berzovic said: "We cannot compare ourselves to the other big sides, who have spent millions on getting new players. The results will be immediate for them, but for us, it will come later. We need time because the players need to integrate with the team."

arizvi@thenational.ae