DUBAI: Champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club ominously smashed seven past sinking Emirates Club and Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira suffered a consequential defeat in matchweek 10 of the ADNOC Pro League.
UAE prospect Harib Abdalla was one of three players to produce a brace for the holders when second-bottom Emirates – minus Spanish star player Andres Iniesta – endured a sixth-successive defeat, this time 7-0.
There were contrasting emotions at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium when nine-men Al-Jazira were downed 5-1 by fast-improving Ajman, with an immediate board restructure being announced by the seventh-placed side.
Leaders Al-Wasl were pegged back from 2-0 up to a 2-2 draw by Al-Wahda, Hernan Crespo’s Al-Ain salvaged a heated 2-2 stalemate at Al-Ittihad Kalba in a contest played out with 10 men apiece for the entire second half, and Sharjah recovered from a dispiriting AFC Champions League elimination with a 4-1 beating of bottom-placed Hatta, highlighted by two-goal Guinean youngster Ousmane Camara’s bicycle kick.
Dark-horses Al-Bataeh returned to winning ways with a 2-1 victory against Baniyas, while Alfred Schreuder’s sleeping giants Al-Nasr failed to win again, suffering a 3-1 defeat at Khor Fakkan.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.
Player of the week: Omar Khrbin (Al-Wahda)
Some players are destined not to receive their dues.
This may feel incongruous when discussing Omar Khrbin, a maverick forward previously bestowed the 2017 AFC Player of the Year gong.
When the ADNOC Pro League’s leading lights are debated, Al-Wahda’s premier attacker is usually absent. Emirati internationals Ali Mabkhout and Fabio De Lima will be included and so, too, the likes of Al-Ain’s Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba, Sharjah’s Miralem Pjanic, and Shabab Al-Ahli’s Fede Cartabia.
But not the Syria international who has consistently delivered top performances since an unheralded acquisition by Al-Dhafra back in 2016.
The latest came with a brace in Friday’s draw against first-placed Al-Wasl, delivering a penalty kick and instinctive close-range effort to take something from a clash in which his current employers found themselves two goals in arrears, on home soil, by 19 minutes.
Khrbin’s recent career arc speaks volumes. The enigmatic forward has bounced between Al-Wahda and Shabab Al-Ahli since returning to the UAE from a similarly undulating stint at Saudi Arabia heavyweights Al-Hilal.
Yet, a creditable 54 goals and 25 assists have been produced in 91 ADNOC Pro League runouts. Only Laba (eight) has netted more often than Khrbin (seven) this season.
The tally is given further credit because the 29-year-old is not a traditional center forward – his expansive game is more nuanced than that.
Fifth-place Al-Wahda can look to him in confidence during their ADIB Cup quarter-final decider versus Al-Jazira and typically tempestuous derby with Al-Ain.
Goal of the week: Harib Abdalla (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)
Strikes of grander quality than Abdalla’s appeared through Camara’s acrobatics for Sharjah and Al-Ain winger Soufiane Rahimi’s rocket-fuelled free-kick leveller.
No goal, however, contained richer promise than Abdalla’s first against Emirates. For club, or country.
Shabab Al-Ahli had already let loose by the time their emergent 21-year-old phenomenon got involved in the scoring.
Goal No. 6 for Marko Nikolic’s holders came via Yahya Al-Ghassani’s burst of acceleration and adroit cutback to his UAE colleague. Abdalla did the business with a low shot from just inside the area.
There is a palpable sense that if this wing duo ignite in Qatar in the imminent Asian Cup, a third-consecutive semi-final run becomes tangible for Paulo Bento’s ascendant side.
The same also applies domestically for a Shabab Al-Ahli who emphatically rebounded from a potentially damaging 3-0 defeat to rivals Al-Ain.
Coach of the week: Daniel Isaila (Ajman)
Ajman are reaping the rewards of swift course correction.
The summer departure of history-making head coach Goran Tufegdzic to Al-Nasr was followed by the curious capture of Caio Zanardi, a Brazilian previously undertaking brief stints in charge of the aforementioned Blue Wave, Khor Fakkan, and Al-Bataeh.
Last term’s sixth-place finishers devolved into relegation contenders. That was, however, before October’s decisive hire of Daniel Isaila.
The Romanian, who led Baniyas to a stunning second-place finish in the 2020 to 2021 season, has registered just one defeat in six league matches, with depleted Al-Jazira being put to the sword at the weekend.
Bahrain winger Ali Madan excelled via a goal and assist against nine men.
The Orange Brigade can now look up from 11th under Isaila, rather than disconcertingly looking over their shoulder under Zanardi.
Does ADNOC Pro League have a problem with promoted sides?
An interrupted ADNOC Pro League will not reach the halfway point until February, but alarm bells are already ringing at promoted outfits.
Bottom side Hatta’s sole victory came against Emirates Club in 13th, who last gained a point on Sept. 29. A four-point gap to Al-Nasr can, surely, only extend once ex-Ajax and Al-Ain supremo Schreuder gets further time to imprint his philosophy.
That is not a new story. Al-Urooba and Emirates received instant returns to the First Division League in the 2021 to 2022 campaign and only Al-Dhafra’s remarkably low 12 points kept Al-Bataeh from replicating doomed Dibba Al-Fujairah’s fate last season.
Emirates’ gamble on Barcelona alumni Iniesta and Paco Alcacer has yet to gain reward on the pitch, while Hatta’s revolving door policy on recruitment has not helped. Neither CVs of bosses Lluis Planaguma and Fabio Viviani inspire belief, either.
Baniyas’ sixth place in the 2018 to 2019 season was the last time a newbie competed with aplomb. It is a situation which requires reflection from UAE football, at large.