Switzerland striker Haris Seferovic’s star power told when his Al-Wasl joined holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club and dethroned champions Al-Ain in maintaining 100 percent starts as the ADNOC Pro League resumed after the international break.
The Dubai club beat resilient Baniyas 3-2 on Sunday, with the ex-Benfica, Eintracht Frankfurt and Galatasaray hitman claiming a goal and assist.
This followed usual suspects Fede Cartabia and Yahya Al-Ghassani leading the way for Shabab Al-Ahli in their commanding 2-0 win at 10-man Al-Bataeh, plus Al-Ain blitzing sorry Ajman 6-0.
In other games, UAE center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi channeled Zinedine Zidane with an astounding volley during fourth-placed Al-Jazira’s 4-0 thumping of Ittihad Kalba; Sharjah extended bottom-placed Al-Nasr’s miserable beginning with a 1-0 defeat; and 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin edged Al-Wahda beyond promoted Hatta — also without a point — via the same scoreline.
New-signing Paco Alcacer netted on Saturday when Andres Iniesta’s Emirates Club rose to seventh, courtesy of a 2-0 triumph against unwinding Khor Fakkan.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from matchweek three.
Player of the Week — Haris Seferovic (Al-Wasl)
Great expectations followed July’s arrival of Seferovic in Dubai.
His was the kind of globally recognized name not seen at Zabeel Stadium since the tumultuous reign of Diego Maradona, more than a decade ago.
Seferovic cannot match “El Pibe de Oro” for on-field ability, or off-field drama. No one can.
The 93-cap center-forward does, however, provide substantial ballast to his employer’s hopes of ending a title drought which stretches back to 2006-07.
Instincts honed at three World Cups and two European Championships witnessed him perfectly positioned to tap-in from a Baniyas defensive error. His imposing stature then meant he could stretch to keep a corner alive which resident “Golden Boy” Ali Saleh scrambled home.
Zabeel Stadium has been club-great Fabio De Lima’s stage. The club’s fortunes have rested on the shoulders of the UAE top flight’s fourth-highest scorer.
It was too much weight for one star, no matter how gloriously talented, to carry. Fast forward to 2023/24 and third-placed Wasl boast envious options everywhere.
Seferovic and Saleh exchanged assists versus Baniyas, with highly promising Ivorian youngster Adama Diallo netting a fifth ADNOC Pro League goal in 380 minutes via an assist from UAE forward Caio Canedo — back at his beloved club following four, mixed seasons at Al-Ain.
Tireless Malian midfielder Siaka Sidibe, again, shone off the bench; beguiling ex-Baniyas playmaker Nicolas Gimenez shimmered in a first run-out versus former employers; and there was even an 89th-minute cameo from exalted 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman.
Red Star Belgrade double winner Milos Milojevic’s stellar support cast ensured De Lima’s blank on the night mattered little.
More momentum should be gained in meetings versus strugglers Khor Fakkan, Ajman and Hatta. If Seferovic aides in putting those teams to the sword, anything is possible.
Goal of the Week — Khalifa Al-Hammadi (Al-Jazira)
Frank de Boer had much to admire in Jazira’s ruthless restart.
A typical preponderance of possession — 62 percent/38 percent — at expected dark horses Kalba translated into a comprehensive triumph, despite losing the attempts count 17/7.
Spanish playmaker Alejandro Pozuelo was hugely influential; former Fulham flyer Neeskens Kebano netted an opening goal in pride of Abu Dhabi colors; and club favorite Al-Hammadi conjured a strike of ethereal quality.
Football fans of long memory cherish France icon Zidane’s glorious volley, sent on its way from behind his head, in the 2001-02 UEFA Champions League final. It is not impudent to suggest Al-Hammadi’s effort was of a similar ilk.
With the match already wrapped up at 3-0, an out-swinging corner from substitute Richard Akonnor floated, harmlessly, away from the penalty spot. UAE regular Al-Hammadi, however, had different thoughts.
The 33-cap center-back — who was the youngest performer from his nation’s 2019 AFC Asian Cup semifinalists — skipped into the air. Facing away from goal, this delivery was met first time with a delicate sweep past the despairing grasp of Eisa Hooti.
A staggering effort from one of Asia’s outstanding defenders.
Coach of the Week — Alfred Schreuder (Al-Ain)
In a weekend stained by shameful behavior from Ajax supporters in “De Klassieker,” a maligned former coach continues to excel in foreign lands.
Alfred Schreuder lasted only eight unsettled months at Johan Cruyff Arena, up to January 2023. A fresh start at UAE football’s most-decorated outfit has produced results of rich promise.
The 50-year-old’s sixth victory from six matches was inspired by the creative abilities of Al-Ain recruits Kaku and Omer Atzili.
A flurry of 21 goals have come in the ADNOC Pro League, ADIB Cup and AFC Champions League, to the concession of just three. They roar into Thursday’s heavyweight contest at Sharjah.
UAE football is in fine fettle
An early season repeat, in the league, of last term’s ADIB Cup, President’s Cup and UAE Super Cup showpiece finals between Sharjah and Al-Ain whets the appetite.
The grandstand event — taking place on Thursday, Sept. 28 — represents another staging post for an upwardly mobile UAE game.
Meanwhile, ex-South Korea tactician Paulo Bento debuted as UAE national team coach this month with a 4-1 friendly win against Costa Rica, providing ample encouragement ahead of World Cup 2026 qualifying and the winter’s Asian Cup.
Renewed depth at international level was hallmarked by the UAE Olympic team advancing on the same day, as group winners ahead of China, into the 2024 AFC U-23 Asian Cup.
In the 2023-24 AFC Champions League, Sharjah’s and Al-Ain’s return of four points on Matchday 1 was, also, the most of any west Asian nation.
That competition has provided a plethora of chastening experiences in the previous seven years. Little hope had been engendered internationally under successive regimes.
Such successes, allied with a burgeoning domestic scene, add to UAE football’s sense of anticipation. Another golden cycle may be underway.