Former Saudi International Champions return to Royal Greens for LIV Golf Invitational Jeddah
Al-Jazeera’s alarming fall continued, champions Al-Ain added to Al-Nasr’s misery and Al-Wasl conceded two goals – plus leadership – in intriguing seventh matchweek of the ADNOC Pro League.
Congolese winger Prestige Mboungou’s incredible second-half goal earned Ajman a 1-0 victory and made it four games without a win for stuttering Pride of Abu Dhabi.
Spanish predator Paco Alcacer’s lone header at promoted Al-Bataeh, meanwhile, set Sharjah’s new pacemakers to back-to-back triumphs after Friday’s President’s Cup final and the hitman’s deadly brace Togolese Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba took Al-Ain to a 3-1 win at Al-Maktoum Stadium.
Alexandru Cicaldau, on loan from Galatasaray, got on the scoresheet as dark horses Ittihad Kalba fought back 2-0 in 55 minutes to draw 2-2 against a rocked Al-Wasl.
Mohamed Juma capitalized on a defensive error to hand Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club a 1-0 victory over Khor Fakkan, Palmeiras owner Rafael Elias scored a hat-trick for Baniyas to condemn winless Dibba Al- Fujairah to 4-1 defeat and Al-Wahda bounced back from the Cup disappointment to beat sorry Al-Dhafra 4-2.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and talking points from the latest action.
Player of the week – Rafael Elias (Baniyas)
Elias went from a worrying problem to a likely solution in the space of 45 minutes on Saturday.
A gaping chasm at centre-forward was created at Baniyas Stadium as Joao Pedro’s loan spell from Dhafra came to an end in the summer of 2021. The prolific Brazilian fired them an unlikely second before a permanent move to Al-Wahda.
Immediate replacement, Swedish international Isaac Thelin, terminated his contract prematurely last March after just six goals in 21 outings.
Elias, 23, appeared to be heading in the same daunting direction, with six scoreless outings contributing to Baniyas’ status as top scorer with three goals.
This paltry count did not reflect the collective talent in their ranks. But what can fast winger Suhail Al-Noubi or graceful Argentine playmaker Nicolas Gimenez do when they have no one to create chances?
The 1-1 at the break against Dibba did not bode well. But a mix of fortune and a ruthless finish from 47 to 86 minutes saw Elias win the match ball, doubling Baniyas’ seasonal tally with two headers and a swept effort.
The lowly Dhafra are in place next Sunday, providing an opportunity for striker and employer to build momentum belatedly.
Goal of the Week — Andriy Yarmolenko (Al-Ain)
Yarmolenko is heating things up, just as the temperatures are starting to steadily cool.
The statuesque Ukrainian striker’s first goal at Al-Nasr has netted three times in his last three top matches. It was poetry in motion, too, as the Boss’ main attackers all came together in satisfying fashion.
A burst of acceleration allowed Moroccan winger Soufiane Rahimi to space out on the left. Laba and Yarmolenko were hiding at the edge of the penalty area when the expected 2022 World Cup contender peeked out, before landing a low cross.
The former’s telepathic step over offered Yarmolenko the distraction from the latter needed to convert low, on the stretch.
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Such synchronization will have pleased boss Serhiy Rebrov. Keep it up and the incumbents’ stumble off the starting blocks can turn into a winning sprint.
Delight was etched on the face of the former West Ham United and Dynamo Kyiv maestro Yarmolenko. His goal was just the reward of an all-around display in which he boasted 87% passing accuracy, completed 60% of the dribbles and recorded three interceptions.
The Shabab Al-Ahli weekend opposition has been warned.
Coach of the Week – Goran Tufegdzic (Ajman)
A remarkable result cemented the belief that Ajman’s campaign can turn into a historic campaign.
The Orange Brigade prevailed at Al-Jazeera for the first time in the professional era, thanks to Mboungou’s exceptional killer touch and his unerring shot at the near post. This 77th-minute decider by summer addition Abha from Roshn Saudi League came in a contest in which his club recorded just 33% possession, lost the number of attempts 13-7 and lost needed goalkeeper Ali Al-Hosani to make several sharp saves.
Statistics, however, only tell part of the story. The visitors rushed feverishly to disrupt Jazira’s trademark passing carousel under former Ajax tactician Marcel Keizer and created a range of excellent chances, on the counter-attack or from set pieces.
The Orange Brigade lost two of their first three games but have since taken 10 points from the next 12 available.
UAE football regular Tufegdzic – Ajman represent the fifth Serbian side since 2016 – led them to a better Pro League finish with a seventh-place finish on last season’s debut. A further rise in the standings must be the goal.
Thorsten deserves more time
The walls continue to close in on Thorsten Fink.
Al-Nasr’s third defeat in four matches heightened the sense of finality that surrounded summer hire Riga FC from Latvia.
Yet there are fact-based reasons that illustrate why Blue Wave’s board has remained patient while Al-Wahda and Dibba have already made management changes.
A cold look at the situation puts Al-Nasr two places and two places outside the drop zone. They have only won once, despite seemingly impressive pre-season signings in Morocco midfielder Adel Taarabt and former Al-Tai centre-back Lucao.
But they racked up the second most assists with 3,845; 86% joint pass accuracy; and the sixth-most efforts with 91. Only Al-Wahda directly bettered them for possession, with their average percentage of 63.4.
Former Basel, Hamburg, APOEL and Vissel Kobe boss Fink has forged a palpable identity for himself in the early months of his reign.
These are the foundations on which progress can be built. Whether he is the man to take advantage, however, may depend on Al-Nasr’s performance at Kalba on Saturday.