Fresh life was breathed into the 2020/21 Arabian Gulf League title race in an enthralling match-week 10.
Drama at the top began when Bani Yas substitute Ahmed Abunamous danced through the Sharjah defence on Thursday to inflict their first defeat of the season. Al Jazira then moved level courtesy of a lively 3-2 win at an Al Wasl inspired by coach Odair Hellmann’s arrival from Fluminense, while third-placed Al Nasr’s limp 2-1 defeat to the 10 men of Al Ain on Friday kept them off the pace.
Mahdi Ali, meanwhile, endured a nightmare return to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, going down 3-2 at lowly Fujairah. Al Wahda’s winless run extended to four matches with a dreary goalless draw at sixth-placed Ittihad Kalba, Ramon Lopes’ double earned a 2-1 triumph for improving Khor Fakkan at sinking Ajman and bottom-placed Hatta remained stuck on one point after Denilson got the only goal for mid-table Al Dhafra.
Here are Sport360°’s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ramon Lopes (Khor Fakkan)
استمتع مع رامون لوبيز بالهدفين في مرمى عجمان 😍🦅
— شركة نادي خورفكان لكرة القدم (@KhorFakkanfc) December 19, 2020
An eventful contest between two struggling sides which finished with 10 men apiece was, effectively, settled within the first half hour.
Brazilian forward Lopes’ brace – aided by goalkeeper Ali Al Hosani’s flimsy attempt to repel the first – was enough to see off Ajman’s second-half revival.
That’s five goals in his last three AGL run-outs, an invaluable run of form helping to propel Caio Zanardi’s troops out of the drop zone.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Ahmed Abunamous (Bani Yas)
ما أجمل هدف في الجولة العاشرة؟
1- هدف "مارادوني" لـ #أحمد_أبوناموس
2- ركلة حرة بعيدة المدى لـ #كوسانوفيتش
3- تسديدة "على الطاير" لـ #فابيو_ليما
4- تمريرة سحرية ولمسة جميلة لـ #فراس_بالعربي
5- هدف "بالكعب" لـ #رامون_لوبيز #دوري_الخليج_العربي pic.twitter.com/z5TDFBPf3l
— قناة أبوظبي الرياضية (@ADSportsTV) December 18, 2020
This was some way to end the division’s only undefeated record.
Abunamous had been on the park for less than two minutes when he picked up possession within the centre-circle. Beguiling footwork at pace – reminiscent of Diego Maradona at World Cup 1986 – witnessed him breeze through four challenges, before sending UAE goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani the wrong way with a precise low finish.
An unforgettable moment.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Pedro Emanuel (Al Ain)
امتدح جهود اللاعبين ووجه تحية خاصة لمحمد أحمد..
بيدرو: حصدنا النقاط الثلاث بروح القتال والرغبة القوية في الفوز
▪️نهنئ جماهيرنا الذين عايشوا معنا ظروفاً استثنائية
▪️نعيش ظروفاً صعبة وما يتوفر لمنافسينا من أسلحة لا يتوفر لنا
— نادي العين (@alainfcae) December 18, 2020
Emanuel needed more than a result this weekend – he also needed a performance.
Mercifully for the ex-Porto defender, his players delivered versus Nasr. The UAE’s most-decorated club had slid into a listless three-match winless run, producing widespread disquiet.
Fears about another troubling day grew sonorous when UAE wide man Bandar Al Ahbabi was dismissed for a high challenge in just the 23rd minute. Fast forward to the final whistle and an enlivening win against expected title challengers had been secured, even with Japan international Tsukasa Shiotani registering an own goal.
Crisis? What crisis.
For a man of such achievements, Ali still has plenty to prove
Mahdi Ali is an undisputed legend of UAE football.
His achievements with various national sides – paternal nurturing of the ‘Golden Generation’, entry to the London 2012 Olympics, Gulf Cup 2013 victory and third place at the 2015 Asian Cup – stand the test of time. His record at club level, however, is less glorious.
Is he, truly, the best candidate to transform a rich Shabab Al Ahli squad from inexplicable also-rans to expected title contenders? Early concerns about his suitability will only have grown after Friday’s chastening return at Fujairah.
Ali answered the merged outfit’s previous emergency call – he represented Al Ahli as a player from 1983-98 – in December 2017 when Cosmin Olaroiu’s iconic reign unravelled, exiting after a forgettable fifth-placed finish and middling win percentage of 42.1. This was a marginal decline from his opening stint’s win percentage of 50, recorded from November 2009-February 2010.
No other club sides have been led by the 55-year-old. He’s lifted zero trophies in all three Ahli stints.
Ali cannot be blamed for wild mistakes headlined by veteran Walid Abbas’ uncharacteristically sloppy giveaway for the first, plus centre-back partner Hamdan Al Kamali’s erratic culpability for the two following strikes.
All eyes will be on Saturday’s visit of fourth-placed Bani Yas.
MATCH-WEEK 10 RESULTS
Al Dhafra 1-0 Hatta
Bani Yas 1-0 Sharjah
Al Wasl 2-3 Al Jazira
Ittihad Kalba 0-0 Al Wahda
Fujairah 3-2 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club
Al Nasr 1-2 Al Ain
Ajman 1-2 Khor Fakkan
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