UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain

Al-Wasl are top of the UAE Pro League after a 3-1 win over Al-Ain. (UAE Pro League)
Al-Wasl are top of the UAE Pro League after a 3-1 win over Al-Ain. (UAE Pro League)
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Updated 05 November 2023
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UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain

UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain
  • Own goal by Abdullah Idrees salvages 1-1 draw for Sharjah against Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira

DUBAI: A sold-out crowd saw Al-Wasl fire themselves firmly into ADNOC Pro League’s title race in an epic “UAE Classico” with Al-Ain, while promoted Hatta gained their first points of the season at the expense of Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club in an enthralling matchweek seven.

Thursday’s heavyweight offering saw an unfortunate, 91st-minute deflection from full-back Abdullah Idrees loop into his own net to salvage a 1-1 draw for Sharjah at Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira.

An electric atmosphere was, then, present when UAE forwards Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo — against his former employers — propelled Wasl to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Ain.

Mirel Radoi’s Al-Bataeh downed in-form Al-Nasr 2-0 to remain seventh, a landmark trio of own goals featured when Hatta defeated fellow promoted outfit Emirates 4-2, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizjon Ganiev starred when champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club beat Ittihad Kalba 3-1 to join Wasl on a pace-setting 17 points.

Suhail Al-Noubi’s 72nd-minute effort caused a 1-0 defeat for debutant Khor Fakkan tactician Nebojsa Jovovic at Baniyas, and Argentine starlet Facundo Kruspzky earned a 1-0 triumph for recovering Al-Wahda versus now bottom Ajman.

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

Player of the week: Fabio De Lima (Al-Wasl)

A fitting stage for a performer of De Lima’s limitless abilities.

The 30-year-old’s place among Wasl’s legends, such as lionized World Cup 1990 star Fahad Khamees who helped earn domestic domination in the 1980s and 1990s, has long been his. Another estimable display in the fevered clash against great rivals Al-Ain has, though, further added to the Brazil-born attacker’s standing.

Goal 153 from 200 ADNOC Pro League run-outs — just 22 behind Khamees’ tally — was typically delicious. A pass from exceptional summer recruit Nicolas Gimenez, recently naturalized by the UAE, was forcefully swept into the top corner by a dynamite left boot to make it 1-0 at a raucous Zabeel.

De Lima was then robbed of an assist by a deflected cross for the second, his short-corner routine with enforcer Geronimo Poblete being ended by Moroccan center-back Soufiane Bouftini’s 53rd-minute header.

The forward’s five goals put him equal second in the scoring charts and is one more than new teammate Haris Seferovic, a seasoned international for Switzerland with 93 caps and five selections for major tournaments.

Next summer, De Lima reaches 10 years in Wasl colors. Near misses for trophies were conjured under Rodolfo Arruabarrena at the previous decade’s midway point, but largely he has been the sole shining light amid a dysfunctional squad.

This thoroughly merited victory shows that something different, more tangible, is being built by October’s best coach winner Milos Milojevic. Damage from successive draws versus lowly Khor Fakkan and Ajman has been recompensed.

The 41-year-old claimed last season’s Serbian SuperLiga and Serbian Cup double at Red Star Belgrade. It is early days, but similar success may be recorded in Dubai.

If so, De Lima will continue to be Wasl’s beating heart, recommencing with the restart on Nov. 25 at sixth-placed Jazira after the international break.

Goal of the week: Azizjon Ganiev (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)

Ganiev has been an unheralded cog since his recruitment in 2020 from FC Nasaf.

Now in his mid-20s and a regular feature in Srecko Katanec’s improving Uzbekistan, another dimension to the central midfielder’s game is emerging.

This decisive ability was on show during Friday’s hard-fought win at Kalba.

An assist for Mateusao set Shabab Al-Ahli on course for a fourth away victory in five ADNOC Pro League outings. Even better would follow before the hour mark.

From fully 35 yards out, Ganiev’s forceful free-kick flew past helpless home goalkeeper Eisa Houti. His cheeky smile and the joyous celebrations of teammates followed, and he is adding fresh elements to his skill set.

Only two teammates have notched more top-flight minutes this season than him (486). Plus, worries about influential ex-Crystal Palace and Serbia midfielder Luka Milivojevic being unavailable at Kalba were proved to be unfounded.

Ganiev can take his exemplary performance into this month’s opening World Cup 2026 qualifiers versus Turkmenistan and Iran, before resuming domestically against Al-Ain.

 

 

Coach of the week: Fabio Viviani (Hatta)

How Hatta waited for this moment.

Last term’s First Division League Champions stumbled into their opening top-flight campaign since relegation in 2020-21, first under Zeljko Markov and then ex-Kalba and Fujairah supremo Fabio Viviani.

There was joy, however, for the latter from a chaotic contest at Emirates in which fellow AC Milan alumnus, Kazakhstan midfielder Alexander Merkel, proved decisive.

Hatta have flitted between the top two divisions since their first appearance in the ADNOC Pro League.

They had become only the second club since the 2013-14 season to record no points from their opening six matchweeks. But Saturday’s haul took them off the foot of the table and within two points of Emirates in 12th. Hope, belatedly, abounds at Hatta.

 

 

Bento’s UAE reign truly begins

An ADNOC Pro League pause means attention immediately shifts to the UAE side.

Ex-Portugal and South Korea boss Paulo Bento’s faultless start, that has contained three friendly victories, will receive its first real test when World Cup 2026 qualifiers begin with clashes versus Nepal (Nov. 16) and Bahrain (Nov. 21).

Jazira icon Ali Mabkhout’s five ADNOC Pro League strikes reveal a striker in decent shape. Wasl’s De Lima has been outstanding, while the same can be said for Shabab Al-Ahli winger Yahya Al-Ghassani and Jazira center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi.

The potential of the side must be realized.

A less talented UAE under a less experienced international manager in Arruabarrena lost narrowly to Australia in the fourth round. Increased qualifying places and Bento’s superior CV will mean greater expectation for 2026.


England and Pakistan’s T20 World Cup preparations blighted by fresh wash-out

England and Pakistan’s T20 World Cup preparations blighted by fresh wash-out
Updated 56 min 18 sec ago
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England and Pakistan’s T20 World Cup preparations blighted by fresh wash-out

England and Pakistan’s T20 World Cup preparations blighted by fresh wash-out
  • The woeful scenes in the Welsh capital followed another complete washout in the first of this four-match T20 series at Headingley
  • England remain 1-0 up with one to play at The Oval on Thursday after a 23-run win in at Edgbaston

CARDIFF: England and Pakistan’s Twenty20 World Cup preparations were again dented by bad weather as the third international in Cardiff on Tuesday was abandoned without a ball being bowled.
The woeful scenes in the Welsh capital followed another complete washout in the first of this four-match T20 series at Headingley.
England remain 1-0 up with one to play at The Oval on Thursday after a 23-run win in at Edgbaston but this latest abandonment came just a week before they begin their T20 World Cup title defense against Scotland in Barbados on June 4.
Rain in Cardiff on Tuesday started to fall steadily an hour before the scheduled 1730 GMT start, with a capacity 15,600 crowd expected at Sophia Gardens.
But the bad weather delayed the toss, with the pitch and square at Sophia Gardens remaining fully covered.
And minutes after a 1910 GMT inspection, the umpires abandoned the match due to a saturated outfield and persistent rain.
The teams will now travel to London for Thursday’s finale at The Oval in the hope of one last chance for competitive action ahead of the T20 World Cup.
Pakistan, the 2009 T20 World Cup winners, start this year’s tournament against co-hosts the United States in Dallas on June 6.


FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final
Updated 28 May 2024
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FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final

FA doing ‘all we can’ to prevent repeat of Euro 2020 Wembley chaos in Champions League final
  • There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul
  • The FA’s director of tournaments and events said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium“

LONDON: England’s governing Football Association said Tuesday it had invested £5 million ($7 million) in improving safety and infrastructure at Wembley in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the climax of the Euro 2020 showpiece when the London ground stages this weekend’s Champions League final.
An independent review identified more than 20 “near-misses” that could have led to serious injury or death as a consequence of ticketless individuals trying to gain entry, and in some cases succeeding, for the England v Italy match in July 2021.
There was also trouble at venues for the 2022 and 2023 Champions League finals, in Paris and Istanbul.
Germany’s Borussia Dortmund and Spanish giants Real Madrid will meet in this season’s final at Wembley on Saturday, with officials promising they will have a “robust and comprehensive testing plan” in place for digital ticketing and safety checks.
Chris Bryant, the FA’s director of tournaments and events, said: “We are doing all we can to ensure fans have a smooth arrival process and nice experience as they come to the stadium.”
The FA, which has tested new methods at the League Cup and FA Cup finals, said fans would be able to enter Wembley four hours before Saturday’s kick-off, rather than two, with Transport for London running extra services to help manage the flow of fans to and from the ground.
Bryant accepted that, following the coronavirus pandemic, the supply of stewards was a major issue at the Euro 2020 final, insisting Saturday’s match would see “the highest ever stewarding deployment in Wembley Stadium history.”
“One thing in the Euros final was very much the supply of stewarding, which I can say was at a low point off the back of Covid,” he said. “We’re very confident the supply of stewarding which you’ve seen in the industry has bounced back.”
He added: “We’ve increased the strength of all the doors because at the Euros final people tried to rip the doors. Those doors are locked with a magnetic lock system and we’ve put a further lock system on every door around the stadium.
“We never foresaw events like that for the Euros final and I’m not sure we will again but we’ve learned lessons and additional measures have been implemented.”


Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
Updated 28 May 2024
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Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open

Djokovic eyes season turnaround as rain brings havoc to French Open
  • World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018
  • He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness

PARIS: Novak Djokovic begins the defense of his French Open title at Roland Garros on Tuesday, confident his Grand Slam pedigree will help turn around his lacklustre season as tournament chiefs battled a frustrating five-hour rain delay.
By late afternoon on the third day, only four of the scheduled 40 first-round ties had been completed.
Two-time runner-up Casper Ruud and former Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina were safely back in the locker room having benefitted from playing under the roofs of the Philippe Chatrier and Suzanne Lenglen courts.
World number one Djokovic, seeking a fourth Roland Garros title and record-extending 25th major, is enduring his worst run since 2018.
Djokovic, 37, has not won a title in 2024 and has yet to make a final with semifinal spots at the Australian Open and Monte Carlo Masters his best performances.
He also suffered the indignity of being accidentally hit on the head by a metal water bottle in Rome which caused nausea and dizziness.
In Geneva last week, where he was knocked out by Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic, Djokovic said he had been suffering from a stomach problem.
“They are rather bumps on the road,” said Djokovic, who watched his long-time rival and 14-time champion Rafael Nadal bow out of the tournament against Alexander Zverev on Monday.
When asked to elaborate further on his difficulties so far this season, Djokovic opted for discretion.
“Various things have been happening in the last couple of months, but I don’t want to get into it. I don’t want to open Pandora’s Box.”
On Tuesday, Djokovic will take on French wildcard Pierre-Hugues Herbert, the world number 142 who hasn’t won a match on the main tour this year.
Ruud, who won clay-court titles in Barcelona and Geneva in the build-up to Roland Garros, cruised to a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Brazilian qualifier Felipe Meligeni Alves.
“It’s great to be back here at Roland Garros,” he said. “Hopefully I can make it another good year here.”
Ruud was beaten in straight sets by Novak Djokovic in last year’s final following a one-sided loss to Rafael Nadal in the 2022 showpiece.
He also lost the 2022 US Open final to Carlos Alcaraz.
Frenchwoman Alize Cornet’s career ended with a straight-sets defeat by Zheng Qinwen in her record-extending 69th consecutive Grand Slam appearance.
Cornet was no match for China’s Australian Open runner-up Zheng, losing 6-2, 6-1.
She made her debut at Roland Garros as a 15-year-old in 2005 and has not missed a Grand Slam tournament since the 2006 US Open.
Cornet reached a career-high ranking of 11th in 2009 and enjoyed a surprise run to the 2022 Australian Open quarter-finals.
“I already cried yesterday watching Rafa,” said a tearful Cornet after seeing Nadal lose what was likely his last match at the French Open on Monday.
Over on Court Suzanne Lenglen, Rybakina powered into the second round with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over Belgian Greet Minnen and could face three-time Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber for a place in the last 32.
Kazakh world number four Rybakina is the only player to defeat tournament favorite Iga Swiatek on clay this season, in the Stuttgart semifinals in April.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, two-time Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka gets her bid to reach a first Roland Garros final underway.
The world number two has reached at least the semifinals in each of the past six Grand Slam events.
Sabalenka is also the only woman to beat world number one and three-time French Open winner Swiatek in a final on clay — in Madrid last year — since the Pole lost her first WTA title decider as a teenager in 2019 at a low-key event in Switzerland.
The 26-year-old Sabalenka had never even reached the second week at Roland Garros until last year, when she was knocked out by Karolina Muchova in the semifinals.
She starts her Paris campaign against Russia’s Erika Andreeva.
Also on court in the men’s singles is Argentine qualifier Roman Andres Burruchaga who has sporting success in the blood.
His father Jorge famously scored the winning goal for Diego Maradona’s Argentina in the 1986 World Cup final against West Germany.
Ranked at 144, the 22-year-old is making his Grand Slam debut and takes on Germany’s Jan-Lennard Struff.


De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel

De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel
Updated 28 May 2024
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De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel

De Bruyne to lead Belgium at Euro 2024 with unretired Witsel
  • Defender Maxim De Cuyper, who won the Belgian league with Club Brugge last weekend, was the only newcomer
  • Tedesco said Witsel’s recent excellent showings with Atletico Madrid convinced him the 35-year-old midfielder was the right choice

BRUSSELS: Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne will lead a rejuvenated Belgium side including a once-retired Axel Witsel at the European Championship next month.
De Bruyne and Witsel were on the 25-man list unveiled by coach Domenico Tedesco on Tuesday. Real Madrid goalkeeper Thibaut Courtois, preparing for the Champions League final, was not.
Defender Maxim De Cuyper, who won the Belgian league with Club Brugge last weekend, was the only newcomer.
De Bruyne and Witsel are remaining members of the so-called golden generation of Belgian players. While De Bruyne’s presence was expected, Witsel’s was a surprise after Tedesco dropped him from his first squad last year. Witsel soon after announced his retirement from international soccer and did not play in qualifying.
But Tedesco said Witsel’s recent excellent showings with Atletico Madrid convinced him the 35-year-old midfielder was the right choice. Tedesco also traveled to Spain to meet Witsel and discuss a comeback. There was no hard feelings, the coach said, and Witsel immediately agreed to return.
“First of all, it’s about the quality,” Tedesco said. “There is no doubt he is a high-quality player. We need him, he is an experienced player, he can help the young players. Either if he is playing or not, we have a good feeling with him.”
Witsel can play in midfield or defense, a versatility that increased his value.
“He has started to play as a central defender, it changed a lot,” Tedesco said. “As a (number) six, probably he would not be in the squad today. I have to be very transparent.”
Tedesco said Courtois was not ready for Euro 2024, which starts on June 14 in Germany, after recently returning from injury. The men have been at odds since a dispute last year, and Courtois announced in December he would miss the Euros.
“Of course, he knows his body the best,” Tedesco said about Courtois.
Tedesco succeeded Roberto Martinez as Belgium manager in February 2023. He has yet to lose a game in charge of the Red Devils.
Belgium will face Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine in Group E. Belgium’s best result at the continental tournament was runner-up in 1980.
Tedesco can still amend his squad before a June 7 deadline when teams must give UEFA a list with a minimum of 23 players and a maximum of 26. He said two extra “young” players will join the squad as training partners during the Euro preparations.
Tedesco said he had been following the left-footed De Cuyper closely since he took over as coach, but the defender had so far been overlooked because of strong competition.
“The situation changed a little bit, and we are open,” Tedesco said. “We have to choose the best players.”
Up front, strikers Romelu Lukaku and Lois Openda were chosen at the expense of Michy Batshuayi. Tedesco said it did not make sense to have Batshuayi in the squad knowing that Charles de Ketelaere, Dodi Lukebakio and Leandro Trossard can also cover his position.
“We did not see the necessity to take a third striker,” Tedesco said.

Belgium:
Goalkeepers: Matz Sels (Nottingham Forest), Koen Casteels (Wolfsburg), Thomas Kaminski (Luton).
Defenders: Wout Faes (Leicester), Timothy Castagne (Fulham), Arthur Theate (Rennes), Jan Vertonghen (Anderlecht), Axel Witsel (Atletico Madrid), Zeno Debast (Anderlecht), Thomas Meunier (Trabzonspor), Maxim De Cuyper (Club Brugge)
Midfielders: Aster Vranckx (Wolfsburg), Youri Tielemans (Aston Villa), Orel Mangala (Lyon), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City), Arthur Vermeeren (Atletico Madrid), Amadou Onana (Everton)
Forwards: Romelu Lukaku (Roma), Charles De Ketelaere (Atalanta), Jeremy Doku (Manchester City), Lois Openda (Leipzig), Leandro Trossard (Arsenal), Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven), Dodi Lukebakio (Sevilla), Yannick Carrasco (Al-Shabab)


Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought

Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought
Updated 28 May 2024
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Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought

Rohit, Kohli in focus as India look to end title drought
  • Rohit, 37, and Kohli, 35, have long been the twin torchbearers for the hopes of their cricket-mad nation
  • India made final of last year’s ODI World Cup at home but lost to Australia at world’s biggest cricket stadium

NEW DELHI: Skipper Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli will look to end India’s global title drought as the star duo step out for what is likely to be their final World Cup appearance.
Rohit, 37, and Kohli, 35, have long been the twin torchbearers for the hopes of their cricket-mad nation, which last saw a major title triumph in the 2013 Champions Trophy.
India made the final of last year’s ODI World Cup at home but lost to Australia in front of a crestfallen packed house at the world’s biggest cricket stadium in Ahmedabad.
The T20 World Cup, starting June 1 in the West Indies and United States, may be the last chance both men have to hoist a trophy from one of the showpiece white-ball tournaments.
“Rohit Sharma knows he isn’t going to play for too long now. Just two to three years more. Same with Virat Kohli,” former India batsman Mohammad Kaif said on Star Sports.
“So this is the last chance for Rohit Sharma and Virat Kohli.
“They lost the World Cup final in Ahmedabad. They played as if they had the cup snatched away from them. Hearts were broken and fans were devastated.”
The next T20 World Cup will be in in two years’ time followed by the 50-over tournament in 2027.
The veterans will combine for India after a contrasting IPL season where Kohli dominated as a one-man run machine and Rohit’s team floundered.
Kohli topped the batting charts with 741 runs for Royal Challengers Bengaluru, forming a thrilling opening partnership with the skipper Faf du Plessis.
Former India batsman Ajay Jadeja said Kohli had made his case to open for his side at the World Cup.
“For me, Virat Kohli opens,” Jadeja told Jio Cinema.
“If you have Virat in your side, you know consistency is the one thing you will get, so, might as well use him. He’s the best at the top and the powerplay allows him to settle in.”
Rohit was replaced as captain of Mumbai Indians by Hardik Pandya for this year’s season and had a patchy tournament, finishing with 417 runs which included a 61-ball century against Chennai Super Kings.
Rohit, nicknamed “Hitman” for his attacking play and big-scoring, signed off in his last league match of the year with a 28-ball fifty but his previous seven innings had produced just 88 runs.
Both men have been part of India’s past World Cup glories.
Rohit was part of the team’s victory in the inaugural T20 World Cup in 2007 when India defeated arch-rivals Pakistan in the final at Johannesburg.
India’s last World Cup win came in 2011 when a young Kohli carried cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar on his shoulders during their victory lap of the field.
Both men have faced pressure to deliver their side a title in the years since, but Kohli stepped down as T20 captain in 2021 and was then removed as ODI skipper in the same year without delivering.
Rohit, who led Mumbai to five IPL titles, picked up the baton but a World Cup trophy has proven elusive under his leadership as well.
In this year’s T20 World Cup India face Pakistan, Canada, the United States and Ireland in the group phase of the tournament, with Kaif saying the team had a clear run to the knockout matches.
“India hardly have competition in the group stage. There are only two main matches — the semifinal and the final,” he said.