UAE Pro League: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain maintain momentum at top of table

UAE Pro League: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain maintain momentum at top of table
Omar Khrbin starred for Shabab Al-Ahli in their 3-2 win over Al-Jazira (Twitter/@Shabab_AlAhliFC)
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Updated 12 March 2023
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UAE Pro League: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain maintain momentum at top of table

UAE Pro League: Shabab Al-Ahli and Al-Ain maintain momentum at top of table
  • League’s top two teams had contrasting victories while third-placed Al-Wasl kept in touch with win over Sharjah

Holders Al-Ain and leaders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club emerged strongest from an ADNOC Pro League matchweek 19 dominated by intra-top-six clashes.

Leonardo Jardim’s Shabab Al-Ahli, inspired by 2017 AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin, fought back from two-goals down to prevail 3-2 at crestfallen Al-Jazira. An 84th-minute penalty by Argentine wide man Fede Cartabia settled an undulating contest at sixth-placed opponents, from which both finished with 10 men.

It was a simpler affair for Al-Ain, easing to a comfortable 3-0 triumph versus 10-man Abu Dhabi rivals Al-Wahda, which featured a 40-yard, possibly fortuitous, strike from Croatia center-back Tin Jedvaj. Third-placed Al-Wasl, meanwhile, kept up with the leading pace when Fabio De Lima’s magical 92nd-minute back heel canceled out Cape Verde forward Djaniny’s ruthless low finish for fifth-placed Sharjah.

Portuguese midfielder Toze’s late penalty granted third-bottom Al-Nasr a valuable 1-0 triumph versus Baniyas, which moved them nine points away from danger.

Promoted Al-Bataeh and second-bottom Al-Dhafra shared two goals and two red cards, while entertaining 2-2 draws were played out in Khor Fakkan versus Ajman and Al-Bataeh against Al-Dhafra.

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

 

Player of the week — Omar Khrbin (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

A game-of-the-season contender played out at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, with spiky Syria forward Khrbin crucial to the pacesetters’ rousing second-half retort.

This resolve signposted the Dubai outfit’s determination to claim a first league title since the landmark merger in 2017. Added edge was also provided by the comeback’s central character being on loan from Jazira’s neighbors Wahda, a rivalry stoked by separation of just 3 km.

Khrbin’s summer acquisition was overshadowed by the capture of coveted Lyon and Belgium center-back Jason Denayer. He has often since taken a backseat to the decisive Cartabia, who slotted in the deciding spot-kick.

But Khrbin’s work in the capital this weekend merited wide acclaim.

His competitive edge, when appropriately channelled, was engaged after an opening stanza from which UAE legend Ali Mabkhout converted a penalty — a remarkable 10th in the league this term — and prodigious Ivorian youngster Mamadou Coulibaly struck from distance.

Shabab Al-Ahli were a team renewed in the second half. Khrbin pounced at the back stick for a sixth top-flight strike in 15 run-outs at temporary employers, with Jardim’s pointed half-time words still ringing in their ears.

An unselfish fourth league assist then followed for emerging UAE winger Yahya Al-Ghassani — also a Wahda alumnus — to delicately loft over advancing compatriot Ali Khaseif.

Firm foundations had been set, ahead of Cartabia’s clincher. They could not even be unsettled by red cards for either side, deep into second-half injury time.

A summit clash with Al-Ain on April 1 looms large.

 

Goal of the week — Fabio De Lima (Al-Wasl)

Al-Wasl, however, hold firm belief they can play a significant role in this season’s title destiny.

This attitude was tested by Trabzonspor loanee Djaniny’s unerring 67th-minute finish at a packed Zabeel Stadium. But a modern great for one of UAE football’s defining clubs, once more produced at this critical juncture.

De Lima’s 14th goal of the campaign, and 143rd in 186 league appearances since his unheralded arrival from Brazil’s second-tier Atletico Goianiense in 2014, was typically accomplished.

Former Argentina youth international Tomas Chancalay’s fierce center was fizzed slightly behind him and into a packed penalty box.

The back heel that followed could have been conjured by few — and converted by even fewer. It also showed laudable clarity of thought by the naturalized UAE international amid a tinder-box atmosphere, defined by unbearable tension.

Star-studded Sharjah were bereft. But their relieved hosts erupted in celebration, from the technical area to the terraces, when an undefeated streak stretched into an eighth-successive match.

It is 16 years since Al-Wasl lifted a seventh league crown. An eighth has rarely felt this close.

 

Coach of the week — Serhiy Rebrov (Al-Ain)

Momentum is the magic word for Al-Ain.

They had none in a fraught period either side of the 2022 World Cup. But Ukraine icon, and serial trophy hoarder, Serhiy Rebrov, has generated plenty in the following period.

The 48-year-old’s pedigree is the driving force behind a seven-match winning top-flight run. His side, again, portrayed no sign of slowing down during a dominant display at Wahda.

Jedvaj, 21-goal Togo striker Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba and revitalized UAE forward Caio Canedo sealed victory aided by Abdullah Al Karbi’s 56th-minute dismissal.

Youth was key to this success. El Mehdi El Moubarik and 2022 Golden Boy nominee Matias Palacios were excellent in midfield, performing increasingly influential roles as this season progresses.

A dogged approach was imbued by their manager. Al-Ain won the foul count 13-6 and attempts count 13-9, despite boasting marginally inferior possession.

From a winter of discontent, Al-Ain may yet claim a record-extending 15th league crown, eighth President’s Cup and AFC Champions League return. All thanks to Rebrov’s unflappable leadership.

 

True title contenders emerge ahead of epic finale

The final sprint is in sight.

From a weekend that began with six contenders facing off against each other, several appear to have fallen by the wayside.

Another collapse from sixth-placed Jazira surely has put paid to hopes of repeating the 2021-21 triumph, as they sit nine points back with seven to play.

Sharjah’s star power looks diminished in fifth, seven points in arrears. Even fourth-placed Wahda will rue a five-point deficit and major test failed.

Third-placed Al-Wasl, in contrast, are determined and second-placed Al-Ain ascendant. They are both within one win of Shabab Al-Ahli — with meetings against the leader to come next month.

A season that promised so much in the summer is delivering in abundance.


Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig

Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig
Updated 53 sec ago
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Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig

Kane’s injury time goal saves Bayern against Leipzig
BERLIN: Harry Kane scored two goals in the second-half, including an injury time winner, to snatch Bayern Munich a 2-1 home win over RB Leipzig on Saturday, ending the side’s worst run since 2015.
Bayern had lost three matches in a row for the first time in nine years before the club announced this week that coach Thomas Tuchel would leave in the summer.
Bayern captain Manuel Neuer told Sky “it might seem a bit like the good old Bayern luck, but we deserved to win today.”
The win reduced the gap to leaders Bayer Leverkusen to eight points with 11 games left.
Neuer said Tuchel’s exit “cast a bad light on us as players, that we weren’t able to make it work with a top coach like Thomas Tuchel.
“It’s our mistake. We want to keep things going professionally until the end.”
Kane broke the deadlock midway through the first half but Leipzig hit back with 20 remaining minutes, Benjamin Sesko equalising for the visitors.
With Bayern in danger of conceding further ground to Leverkusen in the title race, Kane stepped up and scored in the first minute of injury time, his 27th league goal of the season.
Kane had a golden chance to release the pressure on the home side just five minutes in but his point-blank header was pushed onto the post by Janis Blaswich.
The England captain went close once more just before half-time but a bicycle kick was directed straight at Blaswich.
Kane finally broke through after 56 minutes, slamming a low shot into the Leipzig goal, his 26th strike in 23 games.
Leipzig, who had not lost to Bayern in the league in two years, pressured the German champions, breaking through after 70 minutes through Sesko.
Sesko collected a short Dani Olmo pass and drove his shot low, with the ball deflected by Leon Goretzka and rolling into the net.
The match looked set for a stalemate until Kane latched onto a pass from Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting, before volleying past Blaswich to seize a valuable win.
Stuttgart were held to a 1-1 draw at home by Cologne.
Stuttgart were without injured Brighton loanee Deniz Undav, who had scored five goals in his past four league games, picking up the slack from striker Serhou Guirassy, who has only recently returned to club action after the Africa Cup of Nations.
Stuttgart took the lead in the 53rd minute, Enzo Millot finishing off the type of well-worked team move which has become the hallmark of Sebastian Hoeness’ side this season.
Cologne drew level nine minutes later, though, Eric Martel tapping in after being left unmarked at the far post from a free-kick.
After needing to win a two-legged relegation play-off to stay in the top division last campaign, Stuttgart have been this season’s Bundesliga surprise packages and stay third as they bid to return to the Champions League for the first time since 2010.
A disappointed Stuttgart captain Waldemar Anton said: “If you want to play international football you have to come out on top in games like this.”
Elsewhere, Union Berlin drew 2-2 at home to Heidenheim.
The visitors forged ahead through Nikola Dovedan on just three minutes thanks to a defensive blunder.
Germany left-back Robin Gosens drew Union level in the 44th minute, sending an ungainly shot across the face of goal and into the net, moments before Andras Schafer gave the hosts the lead.
Heidenheim, who are surprisingly within touching distance of the European placings in their first top-flight season, equalized through Jan-Niklas Beste, who chipped the ball home after a counter-attack.
Borussia Moenchengladbach thumped Bochum 5-2 at home, picking up a crucial three points to move eight clear of the relegation play-off spot.
Darmstadt went within inches of a third win of the season, having two goals chalked off in the dying stages for offside and handball in a 1-1 draw at Werder Bremen.
The result keeps Darmstadt last on 13 points.

Barcelona thump Getafe to go second

Barcelona thump Getafe to go second
Updated 24 February 2024
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Barcelona thump Getafe to go second

Barcelona thump Getafe to go second
  • The defending champions climbed above Girona and have 57 points from 26 games
  • Leaders Real Madrid have 62 points and play their game in hand at home to Sevilla on Sunday

MADRID: Xavi’s rejigged Barcelona side thrashed Getafe 4-0 on Saturday to climb to second in La Liga with recalled duo Joao Felix and Raphinha getting on the scoresheet.
The defending champions climbed above Girona and have 57 points from 26 games.
Leaders Real Madrid have 62 points and play their game in hand at home to Sevilla on Sunday.
Real Madrid hope to take their La Liga unbeaten tally to 20 matches as they await old boy Sergio Ramos, who returns for the first time since he left in 2021 to join PSG.
Joao Felix and Raphinha missed the midweek Champions League 1-1 draw at Napoli and their return paid dividends
Brazilian forward Raphinha broke the deadlock on 20 minutes latching onto a deep pass with a well-timed run and slick shot into the bottom corner.
Raphinha was involved in the build-up to the second goal as Felix doubled the lead with a far post tap in after 53 minutes, just after Getafe had hit the post.
Robert Lewandowski thought he’d made it 3-0 just before the hour but was ruled off-side.
The Pole has netted nine goals in his last 13 appearances, but was also twice denied by good saves on Saturday.
Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong did make it 3-0 just after the hour with a well struck shot from outside the box before Fermin Lopez tapped home a rebound in time added on.
A minute’s silence was observed before the match as a mark of respect following a fire tragedy at a 14-story apartment block which killed 10 people in Valencia.
The scheduled Liga game between Granada and Valencia was postponed.


Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four

Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four
Updated 24 February 2024
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Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four

Fulham puncture Man Utd’s feel-good factor, Villa hit Forest for four
  • United had won their previous four Premier League games to rekindle hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League
  • A 2-1 defeat leaves them eight points adrift of Villa

MANCHESTER, UK: Manchester United’s air of optimism was punctured as Alex Iwobi’s 97th minute winner handed Fulham their first win at Old Trafford since 2003, while Aston Villa surged clear in fourth by beating Nottingham Forest 4-2 on Saturday.
The completion of Jim Ratcliffe’s minority stake in United this week and a spell of good form had brought hope of a fresh start for the Red Devils.
United had won their previous four Premier League games to rekindle hope of qualifying for next season’s Champions League, but a 2-1 defeat leaves them eight points adrift of Villa.
Ratcliffe revealed his ambition to topple Manchester City and Liverpool at the top of the English game within three years.
But the work that lies ahead of the British billionaire on and off the field was exposed as Fulham dominated a ragged United for long spells.
Rodrigo Muniz came closest to opening the scoring before half-time when he hit the post.
Fulham finally took one of their chances midway through the second half when Calvin Bassey lashed home his first goal for the Cottagers from a corner.
United looked to have snatched a point against the run of play late on when Harry Maguire tapped in after Bernd Leno spilled Bruno Fernandes’ effort.
But there was another twist in the tale as Fulham secured their first away win since the opening day of the season.
Adama Traore left Maguire trailing in his wake before teeing up Iwobi to curl inside Andre Onana’s near post.
Villa opened up a five-point lead over Tottenham in the battle for a top-four finish despite a wobble either side of half-time against Forest.
Unai Emery’s men were coasting toward a first home win of 2024 as they led 3-0 inside 39 minutes.
Ollie Watkins tapped in Leon Bailey’s cross to open the scoring after just four minutes.
Douglas Luiz then struck twice to take his tally for the season to nine Premier League goals, all of which have come at Villa Park.
Forest remain just four points above the relegation zone and reacted too late to help their survival hopes.
Moussa Niakhate pulled a goal back deep into first-half stoppage time before Morgan Gibbs-White’s delightful dink cut Forest’s deficit to one just three minutes into the second period.
However, Villa quickly restored their two-goal cushion when Bailey tapped in after Watkins’ initial effort was saved.
Oliver Glasner got off to a dream start as Crystal Palace manager with a 3-0 win over 10-man Burnley.
Palace had won just three times in 20 games stretching back to September to bring Roy Hodgson’s second spell in charge to an end.
Former Eintracht Frankfurt boss Glasner could not have wished for a kinder fixture to start against a Burnley side seemingly destined for an immediate return to the Championship.
Any hope of a first win this year for Vincent Kompany’s men disappeared with a first-half red card for Josh Brownhill.
Chris Richards opened the floodgates 22 minutes from time as Palace moved eight points clear of the relegation zone.
Jordan Ayew made it 2-0 before Jean Philppe-Mateta’s penalty rounded off the scoring.
Everton were denied a huge win in their battle to beat the drop by Lewis Dunk’s 95th minute equalizer for Brighton in a 1-1 draw at the Amex.
Jarrad Brainthwaite’s thumping finish on 73 minutes opened the scoring before Brighton were reduced to 10 men when Billy Gilmour saw red.
But Everton could not hold on as Dunk headed in Pascal Gross’ corner.
A point edges Sean Dyche’s men one point clear of the relegation zone.
Manchester City and Arsenal are in action later on Saturday as they look to close the gap on Liverpool in the title race.
City can move to within one point of the leaders with victory at Bournemouth.
Arsenal then host Newcastle aiming to extend their five-game winning streak in the Premier League.


Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat

Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat
Updated 57 min 30 sec ago
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Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat

Saudi Arabia bow out of 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship after Guam defeat
  • Kingdom were playing for third place in Group A
  • Tournament is the first major 11-a-side competition for females to be held in the KSA

JEDDAH: A 2-0 defeat against Guam on Friday saw the women’s national team of Saudi Arabia end their participation in the 2024 West Asian Football Federation Women’s Championship.
Saudi Arabia and Guam were playing for third place in Group A with qualification out of reach for both teams following previous results against Jordan and Lebanon.
The 2024 WAFF Women’s Championship is the first major 11-a-side tournament for females to be hosted in Saudi Arabia.
Guam scored a brace in the clash, although the Saudi women played well, going close on numerous occasions.
The Saudi side lost their opener 3-1 against Jordan and were defeated 3-2 by Lebanon prior to Friday’s match.
Progress has been made under new head coach Lluis Cortes and the team gave a solid account of themselves against strong opposition.
The players will return to their club teams where they will resume playing in the second season of the Women’s Premier League until April.
The WAFF Women’s Championship is just the latest international football tournament to take place in Jeddah, which hosted the 2023 FIFA Club World Cup and the 2022 WAFF Women’s Futsal Championship.


Mateiko, Gebreselama victorious at 2024 Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon

Mateiko, Gebreselama victorious at 2024 Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon
Updated 24 February 2024
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Mateiko, Gebreselama victorious at 2024 Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon

Mateiko, Gebreselama victorious at 2024 Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon
  • Thousands of runners took part in the 17th edition of the race on Al-Marjan Island

RAS AL-KHAIMAH: The 17th Ras Al-Khaimah Half Marathon on Saturday saw victories for Kenya’s Daniel Mateiko in the men’s category and Tsigie Gebreselama of Ethiopia in the women’s.

Making his third appearance in Ras Al-Khaimah, Mateiko lit up a foggy morning to storm home with a time of 58:45, finishing five seconds ahead of compatriot John Korir (58:50). Isaia Lasoi made it a clean sweep for Kenya in the men’s event, finishing third (58:55).

In the women’s race, Ethiopia’s Tsigie Gebreselama smashed her personal best by more than 30 seconds to win in 65:14 over 2020 Ras Al Khaimah Half Marathon champion Ababel Yeshaneh (65:44), also from Ethiopia. Tanzania’s Jacklin Sakilu was a surprise third, beating her personal best by more than three minutes (66:04).

The two winners, who saw off competition from a powerful field of World and Olympic Champions, received their trophies from Sheikh Saud bin Saqr Al-Qasimi, UAE Supreme Council member and ruler of Ras Al-Khaimah; Raki Phillips, CEO of the Ras Al-Khaimah Tourism Development Authority; and Abdullah Al-Abdooli, CEO of Marjan.

Hosted by the Ras Al-Khaimah Development Authority, the race was held exclusively for the first time on the fast and flat roads of Al-Marjan Island and the runners took it in their stride, despite unusual weather conditions which saw visibility limited to about 50 meters at the finish line.

A delighted Mateiko was relieved to finally get a win in Ras Al-Khaimah after finishing sixth on his debut in 2022 and runner-up to Benard Koech last year.

“I was the fastest man in the field and I promised myself I’d win here after finishing sixth and then second last year,” said the charismatic 25-year-old Kenyan, who dedicated his win to the late Kelvin Kiptum, the marathon world record holder who tragically died this month.

“The conditions were very difficult — it was windy, humid and a little foggy — so this is definitely the best win of my career so far.”

While Mateiko saw off a world-class field that included defending champion Benard Koech, who finished fifth (59:42), and New York Marathon champion Tamirat Tola, who took seventh in the women’s event, the hugely talented Tsigie Gebreselama underlined why she is considered one of her country’s finest prospects.

“I am so happy to have run a personal best today,” said the 23-year-old, runner-up in the Cross Country World Championship and a woman on a mission to break a world record.

“I was very worried about Peres (Jepchirchir) in this race so I was surprised when she dropped back. It’s a great win for me, and, while it’s too early in my career to think about the Paris Olympics, my aim is to break the half marathon world record.”

Olympic marathon champion Jepchirchir, one of the pre-race favorites and a three-time half marathon world champion, suffered a set-back early on in the race when a shoe slipped off, costing her at least 20 seconds.

In addition to the elite field, the event saw more than 5,700 runners compete across four race categories. As well as the half marathon, which drew the biggest turnout, running enthusiasts competed in 5 km, 10 km and 2 km races on a day when the sport’s best distance athletes rubbed shoulders with runners from all over the world.