Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
Brazil's forward Neymar reacts at the end of the Qatar 2022 World Cup Group G football match between Cameroon and Brazil. AFP
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Updated 05 December 2022

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown

Neymar close to World Cup return, England and France set up last-eight showdown
  • Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since

DOHA: Neymar could make his return to the World Cup stage on Monday as Brazil continue their bid to be crowned kings for a record-extending sixth time against South Korea.
Superstar forward Neymar has been absent for Brazil since spraining his ankle in his team’s opening Group G win against Serbia last month and their supporters have been sweating on his fitness ever since.
Coach Tite said Neymar would be assessed in Brazil’s final pre-game training session on Sunday, but gave a heavy hint that the Paris Saint-Germain attacker would start.
“He’s going to train this afternoon and if he’s OK, he will play tomorrow,” Tite told reporters.
His return would be a big boost as Brazil have scored just once since Neymar fell foul to his ankle injury and on Saturday lost Arsenal forward Gabriel Jesus for the rest of the World Cup.
South Korea famously reached the semifinals 20 years ago when the tournament was shared between their country and Japan, who are also in action on Monday against Croatia.
The Koreans have not reached the knockout stages since 2010 and only got to the last 16 in Qatar thanks to an injury-time winner from Hwang Hee-chan in their final group game against Portugal.
They will need a different performance to the one in June’s friendly between the two teams, when Brazil romped to a 5-1 victory with Neymar scoring two penalties.
“We have good memories of 2002, of making it to the last four and we want to relive that,” said Korea midfielder Kim Jin-su, who was 10 years old at that time.
“We’ve waited so long to come to this knockout stage and we all truly wanted to come this far.”
Japan veteran Yuto Nagatomo said his side will again show the world their samurai spirit in their clash with unbeaten Croatia, after having already stunned Germany and Spain on their way to topping Group E.
“Before battle, the samurai would polish their weapons and refine their technique, but if they were scared in battle, all that would count for nothing,” the former Inter Milan left-back said Sunday.
“The most important thing is to have courage.”

- Mbappe shines, England cruise -

Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show again for France with a superb brace which sunk Poland 3-1 and gave the world champions a mouthwatering last-eight showdown with England, easy 3-0 winners over Senegal.
Paris Saint-Germain superstar Mbappe rifled home two blistering second-half strikes after his veteran striker partner Olivier Giroud became France’s all-time leading scorer with his 52nd goal for his country just before half-time.
Mbappe called the World Cup his “obsession” after his match-winning performance, which took his tally to a tournament-leading five and also included an assist for Giroud’s record-breaking opener.
“The only objective for me is to win the World Cup,” said the 23-year-old.
“That is what I am dreaming of. I didn’t come here to win the Golden Ball (for best player). That is not why I am here. I am here to win and help the French national team.”
France will face England on Saturday at the Al Bayt Stadium, where Gareth Southgate’s team strolled past Senegal in a performance full of positives, not least the form of teen sensation Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, 19, set up Jordan Henderson’s opener and the Borussia Dortmund midfielder was involved again when England captain Kane bagged his first goal in this World Cup and overtook Gary Lineker as England’s all-time top scorer in major tournaments.
Bukayo Saka dinked home England’s third in the 57th minute to secure a comfortable win and set up a huge tie with one of the pre-tournament favorites.
“We’ll enjoy this one but then our focus turns to that, it’s going to be a really tough game,” said captain Kane. “They are reigning champions but it’s a good battle.”


Prince Khaled hails ‘amazing first week’ as Aurelien Giraud and Rayssa Leal win gold at skate champs opener in Sharjah

Prince Khaled hails ‘amazing first week’ as Aurelien Giraud and Rayssa Leal win gold at skate champs opener in Sharjah
Updated 9 sec ago

Prince Khaled hails ‘amazing first week’ as Aurelien Giraud and Rayssa Leal win gold at skate champs opener in Sharjah

Prince Khaled hails ‘amazing first week’ as Aurelien Giraud and Rayssa Leal win gold at skate champs opener in Sharjah
  • The Street 2022 World Championships, and the Park 2022 World Championships which runs until Feb. 12 at Aljada Skate Park, are qualifiers for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris

SHARJAH: France’s skateboarder Aurelien Giraud has won the men’s Street 2022 World Championships at Aljada Skate Park in Sharjah, while Brazil’s 15-year-old Rayssa Leal claimed gold in the women’s event.

The Street and Park world championships are being co-organized by World Skate and the UAE-based master developer Arada.

Both events, which run until Feb. 12 at Aljada Skate Park in Sharjah, act as qualifiers for the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris.

“We’ve had an amazing first week and as you would expect from a world championships, the standard has been incredibly high, the support has been loud and colorful and the emotions have run high,” said Prince Khaled bin Alwaleed, vice chairman of Arada, developers of the competition’s new venue.

“During the Street finals, as you’ve seen, it was exciting to see Aurelien Giraud from France and Rayssa Leal from Brazil take gold in the men’s and women’s events respectively. Judging by the tears and celebrations it was obvious how much it meant to them to win in Sharjah, and it was a really riveting competition.”

“From a wider perspective, it’s been a truly multicultural event, with spectators and athletes from 63 nations around the world, most of them travelling to the Middle East for the first time,” he added. “We’ve received a lot of positive feedback from the athletes, fans, and our partners at World Skate.”

A dramatic Sunday in the men’s Street saw Giraud out of the medal positions entering his fourth attempt in the final’s trick section, where a stunning backside 360 claimed 91.48 points and, ultimately, gold. Portugal’s Gustavo Ribeiro earned silver with 267.38 points — not quite enough to beat Giraud’s 269.33 total — while 12-year-old Japanese sensation Onodera Ginwoo took bronze through his 263.04 score.

The women’s final proved incredibly close, with Leal — whose top run of 83.32 was added to with best trick scores of 85.04 and 87.22 — earning 255.58 points to claim gold. It was a total enough to edge out 12-year-old Australian Chloe Covell’s 253.51 and Japan’s Momiji Nishiya’s 253.30 into silver and bronze. Even more impressively, Leal triumphed despite heavy strapping on a wrist injury sustained during a fall in practice earlier in the week.

With the Street competition over, the action moved swiftly onto the Park Championship, and Prince Khaled believes both events will have a long-term influence on the sport in the region.

“These championships have already witnessed impressive worldwide coverage and have really helped to put Sharjah and Aljada on the map as a new heavyweight destination for skateboarding globally,” he said. “The Park competition is getting underway now, wrapping up on Sunday Feb. 12, so the eyes of the skateboarding world are still very much on the UAE.”

“Skateboarding is one of the fastest-growing sports globally but I think it’s fair to say that the bigger competitions have generally been based in North and South America, Australia, Europe and Japan, where the sport is already well-known and popular,” said Prince Khaled. “For any sport to become truly global, it needs to come to places like the Middle East, and that’s exactly what we’ve done with these events.”

Prince Khaled said the competitions are just the beginning for Arada, and he looks forward to continuing the developer’s partnership with World Skate in the near future.

“A major focus for us going forward will be improving the number of local skaters taking part,” he said. “While we’ve had great representation from Bahrain, Oman and Morocco, the presence of a world-class facility like the Aljada Skate Park is really going to help local skaters take the next step to compete at the highest level and maybe even stand on the podium one day.”

Prince Khaled also revealed his delight at handing the winners their medals in Sharjah. “From a personal perspective, my work at the Saudi Sports for All Federation gives me a lot of opportunities to be engaged at every level with athletics; I don’t think there’s anything more invigorating,” he said.

“To award these globally relevant athletes the medals at Aljada, our community, gave me a lot of pride. To see everyone on (the) ground living this huge moment together, that’s what creating communities is really about.

“To date, Aljada has welcomed thousands of people to watch the Olympic skateboarding qualifiers, and the athletes felt our energy, they knew we were rooting for them and holding our breath during the most difficult segments,” said Prince Khaled.

Men’s Street 2022 World Championships final points results:

Aurelien Giraud, 269.33 (France)

Gustavo Ribeiro, 267.38 (Portugal)

Ginwoo Onodera, 263.04 (Japan)

Kelvin Hoefler, 248.59 (Brazil)

Richard Tury, 245.52 (Slovakia)

Jagger Eaton, 179.15 (US)

Chris Joslin, 179.08 (US)

Sora Shirai, 155.78 (Japan)

Women’s Street 2022 World Championships final results:

Rayssa Leal, 255.58 (Brazil)

Chloe Covell, 253.51 (Australia)

Momiji Nishiya, 253.30 (Japan)

Rizu Akama, 251.91 (Japan)

Funa Nakayama, 240.79 (Japan)

Gabriela Mazetto, 221.45 (Brazil)

Paige Heyn, 211.71 (US)

Pamela Rosa, 126.52 (Brazil)


Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team
Updated 06 February 2023

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team

Saudi Arabian women’s football gathers momentum and investment with launch of new U-17 team
  • New youth age group follows the footsteps of main squad and futsal side
  • Squad of 28 players selected for training camp in Riyadh after regional trials

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia has launched its third women’s national team — the Under-17 squad — with 28 players set for a training camp in Riyadh this weekend.

The formation of the team demonstrates the rapid progress of the women’s game in Saudi Arabia since the inception of a dedicated women’s department at the Saudi Arabian Football Federation in 2019. 

The U-17 squad will hope to follow in the footsteps of their senior counterparts, who were recently victorious during their international friendly tournament debut and are well on their way to officially entering the FIFA Rankings List next month.

Today, there are two active professional leagues featuring 25 clubs and 523 players representing over 20 different nationalities. At amateur level, almost 50,000 schoolgirls took part in the inaugural schools’ league featuring 4,700 teams across Saudi Arabia. Off the pitch, 49 referees are officially registered and officiating league matches, with the first Saudi female referee — Anoud Al-Asmari — breaking into FIFA’s licensed list last month. 

Over 1,000 licensed coaches are also nurturing young female talent across clubs, academies, schools and training centers across the country.

Marking a further milestone in the women’s game, Yasser Al-Misehal, president of the SAFF, said: “Saudi Arabia has become an ambitious supporter of sport to help inspire its young population to get active and to lead healthy lives. Our investments, which include grassroots facilities, partnerships and hosting global events, reflect the country’s rapid progress and transformation.

“Women and girls are central to everything we do in sport, and we are working to provide equal access to facilities, opportunities and careers, both on and off the pitch,” he said. “In football that means our national teams, regardless of male or female, get equal pay in terms of daily allowance while on national duty. They train on the same pitches, stay in the same type of accommodation, and use the same equipment.

“The establishment of the U-17 team today is yet another sign of our strong commitment to women’s sports, and football in specific,” Al-Misehal added. “Having been selected to host (the) AFC Asian Cup 2027 … our commitment now lies on our bid to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup in 2026. We invite everyone to visit our country to see for themselves how the country’s transformation is impacting daily lives and the role sport is playing across all areas of society.”

While many sectors have benefitted under Vision 2030 — the Kingdom’s economic and social reform program — sports for schoolgirls have seen a significant boost, with thousands grasping new opportunities that previously did not exist. As a result, today 37 sports federations have a women’s national team, with four female presidents leading them. There has also been a marked increase in sports participation at all levels, with over 200,000 girls playing sport every week.

Mirroring much of the transformation happening across all areas in Saudi Arabia, the strong women’s football movement stems from a long-term strategy and commitment by the SAFF to grow interest and inspire participation at all levels of the game, with unprecedented investments in grassroots, player development, coaching, refereeing and competitions.

The U-17 squad was chosen following try-outs across the country’s three regional training centers in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, that welcome girls as young as six years old three times a week in an effort to increase participation and develop skills at an early age. The centers saw more than 300 talented players try out for the U-17 national team selection. Some players were also chosen after being spotted playing in the inaugural Schools’ League launched at the end of last year.

In a boost to future development, five players from the 28 selected are already honing their skills in front of crowds every weekend in the Women’s Premier League. The U-17 national team’s first training camp has just been completed, with the second confirm from Feb. 9-11, 2023.

Lamia Bahaian, supervisor of the Women’s Football Department and board member at the SAFF, said: “We are fortunate to see such a big turnout for the try-outs and it really shows the passion these girls have for football. They want to play, watch and participate in any way — and while that certainly makes our job easier, it also adds an additional responsibility to give the women’s game the platform it deserves.

“We’ve been working towards the establishment of the U-17 team for a couple of years now as it’s a very important element in our mission to offer a 360 degrees women’s football ecosystem. It’s great to see that five of the players are already earning minutes in the Women’s Premier League, and is indicative of how the creation of the league has benefited the all-round growth of the women’s game.”


Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in DP World ILT20

Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in DP World ILT20
Updated 06 February 2023

Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in DP World ILT20

Battle for fourth place goes down to the wire in DP World ILT20
  • Desert Vipers, Gulf Giants and MI Emirates occupy top three spots while Dubai Capitals desperately hang on to fourth place

Over the past few days, final positions have been fought for in the round-robin stage of the UAE’s DP World ILT20 Cricket League.

Although Abu Dhabi Knight Riders had failed to secure a win so far in nine matches, they finished on a winning note by defeating the Sharjah Warriors to put a dent in the latter’s hopes of finishing in the top four.

Those four teams will contest play-off matches. The first-placed team will play the second-placed team, providing the winner with a direct route to the final. Third and fourth-placed teams will face off, the winner playing the loser of first versus second. The Gulf Giants and the Desert Vipers will finish first and second. On Saturday, they met in the round robin, Vipers sitting top of the league. Bragging rights were at stake.

The Giants batted first and, at 129 for four after 14.2 overs, looked to be running short of a competitive total. However, Shimron Hetmyer accelerated the rate and the Giants closed on 180 for six, a very gettable target for the Vipers. They started with the intent of finishing as quickly as possible. Rohan Mustafa struck three fours in the first over, all hammered through the offside. However, the bowlers changed their lengths, preventing him from advancing, and he stopped laying bat on ball before nicking one through to the wicketkeeper. Alex Hales started more slowly before getting into his stride, greeting Chris Jordan’s first ball with a huge straight six.

At 57 for 1, compared with 55 for 1 for the Giants at the same stage of their respective innings, Hales holed out to a ball turning away outside the off-stump by trying to hit it over mid-wicket but did not get enough power on it, being caught on the boundary. The bowler was local Aayan Afzal Khan. Whether this was a deliberate ploy is not clear but it seemed that Hales knew as soon as he hit the ball that it was not the right decision. He remains the top run-scorer in the League but is being chased closely. Shortly afterwards, the captain, Colin Munro, gave a wicket away needlessly, hitting straight down the ground to be safely caught by David Wiess. Two wickets were thrown away. This is difficult to understand from the sidelines. Certainly, Munro’s twirling of the bat into the air as he departed gave comfort to those lesser cricketers of us who have felt the same way after playing a rash stroke.

The Giants were now in the ascendancy after being on the back foot. A change of pace, bowler and length had been decided upon very quickly on the field and the bowlers effected this well. Further innovation came when Erasmus bowled from 23 yards, inducing a faint edge from Sam Billings, who was trying to resurrect the innings. He had no option but to review the decision, which went against him.

The Giants bowlers, especially Chris Jordan, were putting the ball in the right areas, causing an implosion of the Viper’s innings. Tom Curran, who ended undefeated on 42 was left with too much to do on his own and the innings petered out disappointingly, 25 runs short on 155 for six. After an early misfire with their bowling, the Giants recovered with an astute performance in the field. England’s James Vince has captained their matches in the League, although Carlos Braithwaite was nominated for this match. Whoever was pulling the strings should be thankful for Jordan’s experienced input.

Another captaincy conundrum arose in Sunday’s match between the MI Emirates and the Dubai Capitals, who had been led by Rovman Powell. Although Powell was in the line-up, Yusuf Pathan was named as captain, performing the role energetically, having won the toss and elected to field. In the second half of MIE’s innings, Powell was fielding at long off and long on at both ends, necessitating a long walk/run from one end of the ground to the other.

Dubai Capitals needed to win this match in order to stand a chance of making the last four. Jake Ball embodied their determination, making an early breakthrough in his first over with two wickets. Mohammad Waseem and Lorcan Tucker steadied the innings before Waseem tried to slog a straight ball from Adam Zampa. Tucker also departed to leave MIE on 76 for four after nine overs. Captain Nicholas Pooran rebuilt the innings, pulling anything possible. Dan Mousley gamely supported him but struggled for rhythm. In the 17th over, Zampa had three men short on the offside within the field restriction markers. In response, Pooran pulled Zampa for six.

However, he then drove to cover on the boundary and was caught low down for 43. The last over was entrusted to Jake Ball, who had Jordan Thompson caught by Powell at long off. Ball would have had another wicket caught in the deep but for overstepping the crease to concede a no-ball on the fifth ball of the over and then saw the batter dropped of the next ball, before the innings closed with a run-out on 164 for seven.

Dubai Capitals started slowly against a very mean Craig Overton. Robin Uthappa stepped up the pace before falling to Overton for 29. George Munsey was out reverse sweeping against Zahir Khan and two balls later Powell slogged to deep mid-wicket and was caught low down by Mousley. The very next ball, Pooran dropped Sikander Raza at slip, possibly a match-turning moment. Raza and Dasun Shanakar then carefully rebuilt an innings, which seemed to be at the point of derailment. In a very well-timed run chase, Shanaka, in particular, gradually asserted authority in conditions where evening dew began to affect the bowler’s grip, wides and no-balls creeping into their delivery.

In the 15th over, Shanaka powered Thompson for six, with two fours to follow, placing his side at 128 for 3, compared with MIE’s 116 for 4 at same stage. Raza then accelerated and the target was reached with 11 balls remaining to secure an impressive comeback, both batters reaching fifty.

Dubai Capitals lie in fourth place, a mere 0.013 ahead on net run rate. Their fate will be determined by the result of the final round-robin match between the Gulf Giants and the Sharjah Warriors, who must win to claim fourth spot and a place in the finals.


Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap
Updated 06 February 2023

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap

Saudi Cup sees Trawlerman out to net Red Sea Turf Handicap
  • Co-trainer Thady Gosden’s stayer rides crest of a wave ahead of $2.5m contest

RIYADH: Joint-trainer Thady Gosden believes the demands of the Red Sea Turf Handicap is ideal for Ebor hero Trawlerman, when the Godolphin-owned 5-year-old tackles the $2.5 million contest at The Saudi Cup meeting on Saturday, Feb. 25.

The application of a hood to help him settle in the early stages of his races saw him improve throughout the second half of last season.

After winning a competitive Goodwood handicap, he overcame the widest draw to land the prestigious Ebor Handicap over 2,800 meters at York in August.

He was given a superb ride by Frankie Dettori to battle back for a last-gasp victory having made much of the running.

The pair finished the season behind star stayer Trueshan in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup on British Champions Day at Ascot.

Dettori, who is set to retire at the end of the year, has confirmed he will ride at The Saudi Cup meeting. He will compete on the opening day in the International Jockeys Challenge alongside some of the world’s best riders.

The veteran Italian rider is likely to team up with Trawlerman the following day in the 3,000-meter Red Sea Turf Handicap at the world’s most valuable race meeting with $35.35 million up for grabs over the two days.

Gosden, who trains on a joint license with his father John, said: “Trawlerman has always been a very talented horse.

“He progressed well throughout last year, winning the Ebor and then did well stepping up into stakes company on ground that probably had a little too much dig in it on Champions Day.

“He’s got a great mentality and he’s very tough, as we saw in the Ebor. He looked like he was beat but he came back and ground it out at the finish.

Gosden revealed that Trawlerman had a holiday after Champions Day and has been training well since the start of the year.

“The Red Sea Handicap is an ideal race for him,” the trainer said. “It’s a very competitive race, we’ve seen that in the last couple of years, and you’ve got to have a quality horse to get into the field let alone win it, but he’s exactly the right type.

“You’d like to think he could develop into a Cup horse later in the year. He obviously stays well and since he’s worn a hood he relaxes through his races,” Gosden said.

“Obviously the race is a little while off but Frankie won the Ebor on him so it would be logical for him to ride Trawlerman.”

Trawlerman will be joined at The Saudi Cup meeting, held over two days at the King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh, by talented stablemate Mostahdaf.

He will run in the Group 3 Neom Turf Cup, worth $1.5 million on Saturday, Feb. 25.

Mostahdaf has enjoyed a break since finishing last in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in France when the testing ground was all against him. He had earlier recorded his third victory at Group 3 level when successful in the September Stakes on Kempton’s all-weather track.

Gosden added: “Mostahdaf ran well throughout last year. He won the September Stakes at Kempton and the ground was very deep at Longchamp for the Arc de Triomphe. It rained a huge amount and he wasn’t in love with the ground at all.

“This is a drop back down in distance and this race should suit him. He’s in good order. He always has a positive attitude and he’s been training well.

“He always runs well fresh, so going there without (a) prep run isn’t something you’d worry about.”

The Gosdens have enjoyed great success at The Saudi Cup meeting. Mishriff finished runner-up in the 2020 Saudi Derby in the event’s inaugural year and then returned 12 months later to win the $20 million Saudi Cup itself.

Thady, then assistant to his father, was heavily involved in overseeing Mishriff’s preparation at King Abdulaziz Racecourse in Riyadh. He was impressed with everything he saw in Saudi Arabia.

Gosden revealed: “The track is world class, as are the quarantine facilities.

“The event has improved year on year. I was out there in the inaugural year with Mishriff running in the Saudi Derby and it was fantastic — it’s improved even more since then.

“There’s a great atmosphere at the track and there’s a lot of culture to see in Saudi, it’s always very interesting,” he added. “It’s obviously a meeting everyone wants to have runners at. The prize money is exceptional and it fits into the calendar very well with the racing in Dubai the following month.”

“For horses coming from Britain it’s not the most straightforward preparation as it’s obviously winter over here.” said Gosden. “We can’t train the horses on the grass, it’s all on the all-weather gallops, so it’s not simple but it can be done.”


UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage
Updated 06 February 2023

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage

UAE Pro League sees Shabab Al-Ahli lead big boys on goal rampage
  • Al-Nasr’s relegation fears growing by the match after another defeat

DUBAI: The ADNOC Pro League’s heavyweights cut loose in a high-scoring matchweek 15, while Al-Nasr’s worrying campaign continued.

A quartet from the top-five teams netted three times or more. Leaders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club led the way with a 5-1 demolition of bottom-placed Dibba Al-Fujairah, with 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin doubling up.

Caio’s pair fueled second-placed Sharjah in their ominous 4-0 defeat of Baniyas and ex-Argentina youth forward Tomas Chancalay carried the major threat with two goals when fourth-placed Al-Wasl downed promoted Al-Bataeh 3-1.

Ukraine maverick Andriy Yarmolenko won a penalty and finished a flowing team move as champions Al-Ain’s uptick in form continued with their 4-1 victory at sinking Al-Dhafra.

The round’s other substantial result resonated toward the foot of the table, third-from-bottom Nasr being picked apart 4-1 by dark horses Ajman in another sizeable loss for the UAE’s relegation-haunted, oldest club.

Third-placed Al-Wahda, meanwhile, kept up the pace with a 2-0 win at Ittihad Kalba, from which lethal striker Joao Pedro was intriguingly omitted from the starting XI.

Lastly, Zayed Al-Ameri’s 90th-minute header salvaged a 1-1 draw for laboring 2020-21 champions Al-Jazira at home to 10th-placed Khor Fakkan.

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

Player of the Week — Caio (Sharjah)

The summer’s flurry of monster signings gained Sharjah global headlines.

Yet, their true star attraction was already in situ. Saturday’s portentous triumph in Abu Dhabi exemplified this.

Greece center-back Kostas Manolas gained a clean sheet, Bosnia & Herzegovina midfielder Miralem Pjanic teed up Makhete Diop’s headed opener and Spain striker Paco Alcacer got a pair of assists. Those two assists, however, were converted by outstanding eight-goal Brazilian forward Caio.

The 28-year-old has had brushes with the global stage. A Silver Ball-winning performance — to reward the second-best player — when Al-Ain were historic runners-up at the 2018 Club World Cup sparked a transfer to Portuguese giants Benfica.

This switch, however, did not work out and he was soon back on familiar ground. The ADNOC Pro League is fortunate to have him.

A deflected shot in the 52nd-minute at Baniyas Stadium trickled in to add comfort. The lead would then stretch to three in eye-catching fashion.

Alcacer’s telepathic back heel found the grateful Caio on the edge of the penalty box. A fierce, first-time finish arrowed into the bottom corner meant 10 top-flight goal contributions for the campaign.

Sharjah sit second, but have flattered to deceive too often.

An external solution is expected to be imminently confirmed with the loan arrival of Cape Verde forward Djaniny from reigning Turkish champions Trabzonspor. Resident attacker Caio can, though, catalyze Cosmin Olaroiu’s men in the remaining rounds.

Goal of the Week — Andriy Yarmolenko (Al-Ain)

Another matchweek, further encouraging performances from holders Al-Ain and Yarmolenko.

The 33-year-old’s figures have been strong throughout his time in the UAE. He has now accrued 11 goal contributions from 15 top-flight run outs.

Questions, however, were posed — not for the first time in an enigmatic career — about the consistency of this output.

Yarmolenko was a constant menace at Dhafra, winning a penalty late in the first half converted by 17-goal Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba. The best was to come soon after the break.

The ex-Dynamo Kiev star picked up the ball in a pocket of space on his favored right flank. A one-two with rampaging UAE midfielder Khalid Al-Balochi gained him central possession on the outskirts of the area.

A second one-two with Laba then put him clear inside a penalty box packed with dumbfounded Dhafra defenders. Yarmolenko’s sublime touch at speed and instant low drive came from the top drawer.

From four passes in 10 seconds, he’d turned a harmless situation out wide into one of this season’s great team goals.

This is the Yarmolenko dreamt of when Al-Ain pulled off their summer coup.

A third-successive league win, after a preceding three draws, signifies rapid improvement. So, too, a four-point gap to the leaders from fifth.

This upturn — for player and club — will be further stress-tested in Saturday’s grandstand “Al Clasico” against visiting Jazira.

Coach of the Week — Goran Tufegdzic (Ajman)

Ajman are back.

Chastening defeats to heavyweights Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain, to a combined score of 2-8, were forgotten when Nasr were disassembled.

Ajman ceded more possession (55 percent/45 percent) and attempts (18/12). Yet Tufegdzic knew he had the counterattacking weapons to pick holes in the visitors’ porous rearguard.

Congo winger Prestige Mboungou, a standout solo goal from Bahrain flyer Ali Medan and ingenious Tunisia schemer Firas Ben Larbi’s double followed.

Tufegdzic, clearly, never lost belief in his troops, despite a tricky start to 2023. This result vindicated his position.

How real are Nasr’s worst fears?

Relief generated by 12th-placed Nasr’s recent victory against Dhafra soon evaporated.

Now the question is how far can they sink?

Goran Tomic — their seventh permanent head coach hired since January 2018 — is under significant pressure, just six top-flight fixtures into his reign. Marquee winter addition Peniel Mlapa is scoreless in three league matches, a continuation of his decline witnessed at Kalba.

They have the second-worst attack (14 goals scored) and fourth-worst defense (29 goals conceded). That’s relegation form.

A four-point gap to Dhafra in the drop zone is uncomfortable, with 11 matches to go. The Western Knights have also shown flickers of life through Bulgaria midfielder Georgi Milanov and bulldozing Brazilian journeyman striker Tiago Leonco.

Last season across the border in Saudi Arabia, it was thought Al-Ahli were too big to go down. Their demise shows that Nasr’s worst fears could yet come true.