UAE Pro League: Al-Jazira’s epic win over champions Al-Ain and other talking points from matchweek 3

UAE Pro League: Al-Jazira’s epic win over champions Al-Ain and other talking points from matchweek 3
Al-Jazira players celebrate during their epic win over champions Al-Ain. (ADNOC Pro League)
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Updated 17 September 2022

UAE Pro League: Al-Jazira’s epic win over champions Al-Ain and other talking points from matchweek 3

UAE Pro League: Al-Jazira’s epic win over champions Al-Ain and other talking points from matchweek 3
  • Exciting times at Kalba and a promise of a brighter future at Ajman

A revitalized Al-Jazira shook champions Al-Ain on an epic night, runners-up Sharjah clung on for victory at Ajman, and new boys Al-Bataeh rose to third during the ADNOC Pro League’s unforgettable matchweek 3.

An electrified Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium was the venue for Thursday’s opening heavyweight clash of the campaign — and it did not disappoint.

Al-Jazira’s Ali Mabkhout added to his icon status by sealing a 2-1 win for the Pride of Abu Dhabi in a contest that also featured Al-Ain right-back Bandar Al-Ahbabi’s dismissal. Spain striker Paco Alcacer’s pinpoint header earlier on the same evening sealed a nervy 3-2 triumph for the 10-man Sharjah, which twice trailed to unfortunate Ajman.

Lourency’s second goal in three games saw Bataeh, which handed a bow to 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil, prevail 1-0 over Baniyas; Syria attacker Omar Khrbin heaped pressure on underperforming former employers Al-Wahda with the opener in 10-man Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club’s 2-1 success; and a late double from Ittihad Kalba condemned bottom-placed Al-Dhafra to a 2-0 defeat. Promoted Dibba Al-Fujairah drew 1-1 at Al-Wasl, while Khor Fakkan and Al-Nasr played out the season’s first goalless stalemate.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action:

Player of the week: Ali Mabkhout (Al-Jazira)

Mabkhout is heralded as club royalty at Jazira, and displays like this, on nights like this, show why.

UAE football’s leading marksman, both for the national team and in top-flight history, performed at a different level on what felt like a breakthrough occasion. An estimated 20,000-strong crowd created a volcanic atmosphere, with each play greeted by tribal roars.

A clever assist and instinctive finish proved the difference from Mabkhout against the title-holders. Their top performers, Ukraine maestro Andriy Yarmolenko and Togo hitman Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba, who netted the leveler, were unable to outshine him.

The first goal was crafted via a back-heel from Mabkhout after the ball was fizzed in by Romania recruit Florin Tanase. The on-rushing Abdulla Ramadan rocketed home a 20-yard thunderbolt, despite the attentions of Colombian center-back Danilo Arboleda and Al-Ahbabi.

Mabkhout’s predatory instincts after the interval ensured he was positioned to profit from a defensive deflection inside the penalty box. True leadership also emerged in the frantic final stages as he cajoled his team-mates over the finish line.

That is now six strikes in three outings, with goal contributions coming at a punishing average of one every 38.6 minutes — a dramatic response to last term’s downturn of 10 efforts in 20 matches.

Importantly, it is also a perfect nine points from nine for Al-Jazira heading into the international break. The 2020-21 champions, and their legendary No. 7, are up for another title scrap.

Goal of the week: Brian Ramirez (Al-Ittihad Kalba)

Something special is brewing on the UAE east coast.

Kalba’s impressive recruitment, headlined by Galatasaray loanee Alexandru Cicaldau and Serie A stalwart Daniel Bessa, has been matched by a rebranding off the pitch. This confluence of purpose was exhibited in a remarkable second goal in a win over Dhafra that lifted to Kalba to fourth.

A total of 20 passes followed from under-21 goalkeeper Eisa Hooti’s sidewinding kick, with every player apart from left-back Abdulaziz Al Hamhami touching the ball. This perfectly calibrated play culminated with UAE veteran Habib Fardan’s artistic flick to Argentine forward Ramirez, who raced through a break in the defense to slot home.

Ambition to gatecrash the UAE game’s established order and compete in the AFC Champions League are fuel at Ittihad Kalba Stadium. Moments like this turbocharge such desire from a club determined to claim the first major silverware of their 50-year existence — and fast.

Coach of the week: Goran Tufegdzic (Ajman)

Attention on matchweek 3 gravitated toward events in the capital derby.

Ajman’s defiance amid defeat to Sharjah stands as a positive bellwether. Even with the renewed concentration of elite talent at the summit, ferocious competitors can be found in abundance elsewhere.

Head coach Tufegdzic led the Orange Brigade to a joint-best finish of seventh in the professional era during his debut 2021-22 campaign. Clear fighting spirit has been retained, judging by Thursday night’s showing.

The Serbian’s troops unsettled the star-studded visitors — with ex-Barcelona players Miralem Pjanic and Alcacer in the starting line-up — for long spells. They registered six shots on target from 13 attempts, twice took the lead, and boasted the game’s outstanding performer in Congo winger Prestige Mboungou, an adroit late-summer pick-up from Saudi Arabia’s Abha.

So rattled were the King that UAE center-back Salem Sultan was dismissed late on for an off-the-ball incident.

Ajman are yet to taste victory this season. On this evidence, they will soon be enjoying the feeling in weeks to come.

Reflections on a joyous start

These are exciting days for the ADNOC Pro League.

A rip-roaring start has seen consistently ballooned attendances, a startling rise in playing tempo and young Emiratis excelling amid a burgeoning environment.

This upturn reached an early culmination at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, with Al-Jazira and Al-Ain contesting a game that equalled those in the Roshn Saudi League and Qatar Stars League.

The competition has benefited immeasurably from the organizing body engaging fan associations and encouraging reach out to wider communities. Their investment to revamp English-language television coverage can only help.

Even more can be expected from an influx of formidable foreign playing additions as  temperatures fall.

For too long in the latter half of the previous decade, crowds dispersed and UAE teams left an increasingly smaller footprint in the AFC Champions League.

The challenge now in a unique season disrupted by the 2022 World Cup is to maintain this momentum. An enlivening beginning cannot go to waste.


Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
Updated 24 sec ago

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland

Five things we learned from Saudi Arabia’s 2-0 defeat to Poland
  • Game was an entertaining encounter that should have seen more goals
  • Green Falcons dominated possession, had more chances

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia lost 2-0 to Poland at Education City in Qatar on Saturday and remain on three points after two games in World Cup Group C.
Here are five things we learned from the match:
Saudi Arabia deserved something
It was an entertaining encounter that should have contained more goals, and many of them could have gone to Saudi Arabia. There may have been concerns that the win over Argentina was so big that it would be hard for coach Herve Renard to get his players down from cloud nine and focus on the task at hand, but that was not the issue. The problem was just a lack of clinical finishing. But there was plenty to like about the performance, with Salem Al-Dawsari and Mohamed Kanno particularly impressive.
Saudi Arabia had more of the possession and more of the chances. Even if we take away the missed penalty, there were plenty of opportunities for them to score. Unlike in the win over Argentina when the first two attempts resulted in goals, there was just no way past Wojciech Szczesny. The Poland goalkeeper had a fine game and there were examples of shots flying wide and over from good positions.
On another day, Saudi Arabia would have taken a point from this game, but they were punished by refereeing decisions, their own mistakes, not taking their chances and Poland making the most of theirs.
Harsh first half for the Falcons
Saudi Arabia played well in the first half, which lasted 55 minutes, but all the major incidents in the period went against them. First, Poland’s Matty Cash should have been sent off. The Aston Villa defender was booked for a late tackle but just a few minutes later somehow got away with a dangerous challenge on Mohammed Al-Burayk.
Had a second yellow been shown then Cash would not have been in an advanced position after 39 minutes to pass to Robert Lewandowski who then set up Piotr Zielinski to fire home. It was a goal that came totally against the run of play but that is what happens in football and Saudi Arabia will feel aggrieved that Poland still had 11 men on the pitch.
And then there was the penalty that came in added time as Saleh Al-Shehri was brought down in the area. In truth, Salem Al-Dawsari’s spot kick was not the best but Al-Burayk should have done better with the rebound. Going in level at the break against 10 men would have produced a very different second half.
This is a new, confident Saudi Arabia
What a difference a win against Argentina makes. If anyone was tuning in without knowing anything about the teams, they would have thought that the men in green were the favorites, with players active at the highest level, and that the ones in blue and white were the underdogs.
There were questions as to whether Renard would set his team up in the same way for the second game, and he did. The same, brave, high line was there, the same pressing and even more energy. Saudi Arabia flew out of the blocks and went at Poland, who did not impress in their opening 0-0 draw with Mexico. The Poles were clearly rattled, as three yellow cards collected in the first half of the first half showed.
This is now a Saudi team that knows it can trouble European and South American opposition and does not back down. This is an attitude that needs to continue.
Saudi Arabia have home advantage
Saturday’s game may have officially taken place in Qatar but it could have been Riyadh, Jeddah or Dammam, such were the numbers of Saudi fans in the stadium. As well as the quantity, there was also quality, with noise levels reaching rarely heard heights at the tournament.
The atmosphere was something else and it spurred on the players. It also rattled the Poles who really struggled to settle. They were jeered when in possession, in contrast to the cheers that greeted Saudi Arabian possession. It took an opening goal before the Poles started to look even remotely comfortable. Whatever happens, the Saudi Arabian fans and the players have come together to make one of the stories of the World Cup, and Mexico will not be looking forward to visiting Lusail Iconic Stadium on Wednesday.
There is still all to play for and no reason to feel down
Fans will have to wait and see what happens in Saturday’s late game between Argentina and Mexico to know exactly what they have to do, but whatever happens, everybody would have accepted this position before the World Cup began. Three points from the first two games means the Falcons are in control of their destiny. A win over Mexico means that a place in the knockout stage is guaranteed. It remains to be seen if a draw will suffice.
Coach Renard will have to wait and see what happens with players who have collected knocks but there are still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. Saudi Arabia have shown that they can live with their opponents. Glory awaits and with tens of thousands of fans behind them next week then anything could happen. The defeat against Poland does not need to be a devastating one and nobody should feel down.


Lewandowski scores at World Cup, Poland beat Saudis 2-0

Lewandowski scores at World Cup, Poland beat Saudis 2-0
Updated 26 November 2022

Lewandowski scores at World Cup, Poland beat Saudis 2-0

Lewandowski scores at World Cup, Poland beat Saudis 2-0
  • The 34-year-old Lewandowski also set up the opener in the 40th minute when he kept the ball in play
  • Al-Owais denied Lewandowski from scoring a second goal late in the match

AL RAYYAN, Qatar: Robert Lewandowski finally scored at the World Cup on Saturday, helping Poland beat Saudi Arabia 2-0 and boosting his team’s chances of reaching the knockout stages.
Lewandowski shed tears after scoring in the 82nd minute. He raced toward the corner with his arms outstretched, then stayed slumped on the field as teammates rushed to congratulate him. He got up, rubbed his face, and blew a kiss to the crowd.
It was the Poland forward’s first World Cup goal in his fifth appearance at the tournament.
The 34-year-old Lewandowski also set up the opener in the 40th minute when he kept the ball in play after goalkeeper Mohammed Al-Owais’ initial block, then laid it back for Piotr Zielinski to knock in.
Al-Owais denied Lewandowski from scoring a second goal late in the match.
Poland was scrambling for long periods at the Education City Stadium as the Saudi team was pushed forward by enthusiastic fans in what seemed like a home game.
Poland goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny saved Salem Al-Dawsari’s penalty at the end of the first half. He then blocked Mohammed Al-Burayk’s shot from the rebound.
Poland will next face Argentina, while Saudi Arabia will meet Mexico in their last Group C games.


Brazil with plenty of options to replace Neymar at World Cup

Brazil with plenty of options to replace Neymar at World Cup
Updated 26 November 2022

Brazil with plenty of options to replace Neymar at World Cup

Brazil with plenty of options to replace Neymar at World Cup
  • Neymar hurt his right ankle in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia on Thursday
  • The most straightforward option would be to use Rodrygo in Neymar’s position, keeping Raphinha, Vinícius Júnior and Richarlison in attack

DOHA: With Neymar out for at least another match, Brazil coach Tite must now start thinking about a replacement — and this time he has plenty of options.
Brazil are not as Neymar-dependent as they used to be, and Tite could go several different ways to replace the Paris Saint-Germain forward for Monday’s Group G match against Switzerland.
Neymar hurt his right ankle in Brazil’s opening 2-0 win against Serbia on Thursday. He has ligament damage and team doctors have not given a timetable for his recovery — or said if he will be able to recover at all.
Tite brought nine forward to the World Cup, and could also add a midfielder as Neymar’s replacement if wanted.
The most straightforward option would be to use Rodrygo in Neymar’s position, keeping Raphinha, Vinícius Júnior and Richarlison in attack. Rodrygo plays more as an attacker at Real Madrid, but he has trained in Neymar’s “No. 10” playmaking position while with Brazil in Qatar.
Another alternative would be to put an extra midfielder in Neymar’s position — Manchester United’s Fred or Newcastle’s Bruno Guimarães, for example — freeing up attacking midfielder Lucas Paquetá, who played closer to defensive midfielder Casemiro against Serbia.
Another attacking midfielder available to Tite is Everton Ribeiro, while the other forward in the squad are Gabriel Jesus, Antony, Gabriel Martinelli and Pedro.
Neymar attracted most of the attention from the tough Serbian defense, which kept roughing him up from the start. He was fouled nine times during the game, the most by any player at the World Cup in the first round of matches in the group stage.
Neymar is Brazil’s second-best all-time scorer with 75 goals, two behind Pelé’s record with the national team. The last time he was out at a World Cup — because of a back injury sustained in the quarterfinals against Colombia in 2014 — Brazil went on to get embarrassed by Germany 7-1 in the semifinals.
Tite won’t be able to count on right back Danilo, who also sprained his ankle against Serbia. Danilo’s replacement will likely be veteran Daniel Alves, although Tite could also use central defender Éder Militão in the position.
Brazil, seeking their first World Cup title in two decades, faces Cameroon in their last group match. They can reach the round of 16 in advance with a win on Monday if Cameroon do not defeat Serbia in the other group match.


Ronaldo’s ‘total genius’ won World Cup penalty, says FIFA group

Ronaldo’s ‘total genius’ won World Cup penalty, says FIFA group
Updated 26 November 2022

Ronaldo’s ‘total genius’ won World Cup penalty, says FIFA group

Ronaldo’s ‘total genius’ won World Cup penalty, says FIFA group
  • The veteran striker went down after a tackle by Mohammed Salisu on Thursday before scoring the resulting spot-kick
  • "Maybe the strikers are getting smarter," former Nigeria international Oliseh told a press conference

DOHA: Cristiano Ronaldo showed “total genius” by winning a controversial penalty in Portugal’s World Cup win over Ghana, FIFA technical study group member Sunday Olizeh said on Saturday.
The veteran striker went down after a tackle by Mohammed Salisu on Thursday before scoring the resulting spot-kick to become the first man to net at five World Cups.
Ghana coach Otto Addo described the penalty decision as a “gift” to Ronaldo and said it was a “really wrong decision.”
“Maybe the strikers are getting smarter,” former Nigeria international Olizeh told a press conference when asked why more penalties were being awarded at the tournament so far than in previous years.
“If you look at the penalty Ronaldo got, let’s face it, people can say what they want about this man, but the genius thought to just be patient and put my foot to touch the ball first before you, continue my leg so that you make contact with my leg — that is total genius.
“Let’s give the strikers the compliment for getting smarter.”
Nine penalties were awarded in the first round of group-stage matches.
“VAR is also a major reason why this (more penalties being awarded) is happening because the referees can now look at it three or four times and decide,” added Olizeh.
Portugal take on Uruguay in their second match on Monday before finishing their Group H campaign against South Korea four days later.


Swiss defender Elvedi says Brazil are beatable

Swiss defender Elvedi says Brazil are beatable
Updated 26 November 2022

Swiss defender Elvedi says Brazil are beatable

Swiss defender Elvedi says Brazil are beatable
  • "Every team in this world is beatable," the Borussia Moenchengladbach defender said ahead of Monday's game
  • A second-half goal from Elvedi's former Gladbach teammate Breel Embolo helped Switzerland to a 1-0 win over Cameroon

DOHA: Switzerland center-back Nico Elvedi said on Saturday his side would not be awed by the might of Brazil, saying they had enough quality to push the tournament favorites.
“Every team in this world is beatable,” the Borussia Moenchengladbach defender said ahead of Monday’s game against the five-time champions.
“We know the challenge, but we are not going to hide away. We know our quality and what we are able to show.”
A second-half goal from Elvedi’s former Gladbach teammate Breel Embolo helped Switzerland to a 1-0 win over Cameroon in their opening fixture.
Elvedi said that win “did us good” and “gave us a lot of trust.”
Switzerland have qualified for the knockout stage in four of their last five World Cup appearances.
Avoiding defeat against Brazil would put the side in a strong position to reach the last 16 ahead of what will likely be a crucial final group stage clash with Serbia.
Elvedi said the Swiss could draw little hope from the likely absence of Brazil talisman Neymar, who will miss the match with an ankle injury.
“It won’t change much for us,” he added. “They have enough top players who can play in that position.
“I will sleep exactly the same as always. I won’t be sleeping better because Neymar isn’t playing.”
Switzerland trail Brazil on goal difference in the early Group G standings.
Elvedi said his team would relish the chance to “measure ourselves against the best.”
“We know that this is a really difficult opponent... Brazil is one of the favorites but we are looking forward. We are hot for this game.”