UAE Pro League review: New Al-Ain boss Crespo starts with emphatic win over champions Shabab Al-Ahli

UAE Pro League review: New Al-Ain boss Crespo starts with emphatic win over champions Shabab Al-Ahli
Argentina legend Hernan Crespo enjoyed an emphatic winning debut as Al-Ain boss. (X: @alainfcae)
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Updated 27 November 2023
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UAE Pro League review: New Al-Ain boss Crespo starts with emphatic win over champions Shabab Al-Ahli

UAE Pro League review: New Al-Ain boss Crespo starts with emphatic win over champions Shabab Al-Ahli
  • Al-Wasl remained in top spot after a 4-2 win over De Boer’s 8th-placed Al-Jazira

Argentina legend Hernan Crespo enjoyed an emphatic winning debut as Al-Ain boss, Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club fell into the drop zone and Frank de Boer felt frustration at Al-Jazira during ADNOC Pro League’s memorable resumption.

The result of the round was saved for last, Crespo witnessing eight-goal leading scorer Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba net twice in Sunday’s commanding 3-0 victory at then-unbeaten champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club.

Al-Wasl remained top, however, after more influential displays from UAE forward Fabio De Lima and naturalized playmaker Nicolas Gimenez imposed Saturday’s 4-2 defeat on De Boer’s eighth-placed Al-Jazira.

Thursday’s recommencement after the international break saw a masterclass from ex-Roma, Juventus and Barcelona midfielder Miralem Pjanic, who helped Sharjah salvage an unforgettable 3-3 derby draw with Al-Bataeh, from 3-0 down. Elsewhere in matchweek eight, Al-Wahda — post Pitso Mosimane’s swift removal — inflicted a 4-1 thrashing on now-second-bottom Emirates, and Albania forward Taulant Seferi slotted home the 94th-minute clincher in Baniyas’ heart-breaking 1-0 defeat of 14th-placed Hatta.

Tunisia midfielder Haykeul Chikhaoui’s second-half effort ended Ajman’s 10-match winless opening to the season in all competitions, with this 2-1 triumph against fellow strugglers Khor Fakkan also propelling them out of the bottom two.

Managerless Al-Nasr — for whom ex-Ajax supremo Alfred Schreuder is tipped to make an instant return to the dugout after exiting Al-Ain — drew 0-0 with ADIB Cup semifinalists Ittihad Kalba.

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

Player of the week: Miralem Pjanic (Sharjah)

Elite performers have the ability to impose their will on a fixture.

Thursday’s frantic derby was such an occasion for Sharjah superstar Pjanic.

An ADNOC Pro League season-high eight key passes, according to statisticians SofaScore, were delivered by the heralded Bosnia and Herzegovina center midfielder. This output was essential to turning the tide on a game that had appeared far beyond once-insipid Sharjah’s reach.

Experienced visiting manager Cosmin Olaroiu was outthought and outfought by “apprentice” Mirel Radoi — the ex-Romania defensive midfielder excelled under him at Steaua Bucharest, Al-Hilal, Al-Ain and Al-Ahli in his playing days — when much-improved Bataeh raced into a 3-0 advantage by 35 minutes. Coveted Malian youngster Sekou Gassama netted the opener and added two assists, moving onto six goal contributions in eight league run-outs.

Sharjah required inspiration. Especially with recriminations still fresh from this month’s ADIB Cup quarterfinal exit to Kalba, as holders.

They found it through Pjanic.

An assist followed for UAE midfielder Mohammed Abdulbasit’s deflected drive, which made it 3-1 on 39 minutes, and he was involved in the move winger Luan Pereira completed with a clinical header to reduce the deficit to 3-2 in first-half injury time.

Determination from Pjanic after the interval was exemplified by a shot that hit ex-Ivory Coast youth midfielder Ulrich Meleke’s outstretched arm for the spot-kick converted by six-goal Brazilian forward Caio to level up.

Sharjah could not find another, this epic stalemate dropping them to fifth. But Pjanic’s belief should be vital in defining AFC Champions League Group B clashes to come versus Qatar’s Al-Sadd and Jordan’s Al-Faisaly.

Goal of the week: Taulant Seferi (Baniyas)

A quiet return to form is being recorded by Baniyas.

Little was expected after the departure of Gimenez to Wasl in the wake of descending ninth and 11th-placed finishes, following a surprise run to second in 2020-21.

This last-gasp victory versus Hatta, however, sent the Sky Blues up to a solid sixth spot. Seferi’s nerveless, late finish — with 17 seconds left of four minutes added time — made it 10 points from the last-available 15, a figure only bettered by pacesetting Wasl.

A poised low pass from substitute left-back Khalaf Al-Hosani sent Seferi in behind Hatta’s dangerously high defensive line. There was still plenty to do for the Albanian when he swiveled, 30 yards out from goal.

The Vorskla Poltava loanee smartly kept onside with a checked run, took two touches to steady himself and then found the bottom corner on 93:43.

Coach of the week: Hernan Crespo (Al-Ain)

Eyebrows were raised when Schreuder departed Al-Ain, despite Nov. 7’s victory against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Fayha returning Al-Ain to the AFC Champions League knockouts after a five-year absence.

The intransigent Dutchman had, though, made more enemies than friends in his brief stint at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

A call was swiftly made to amiable former Al-Duhail coach Crespo. The ex-Lazio, Internazionale, Chelsea and AC Milan center forward passed this first test, in purple and white, with flying colors.

Outcasts Matias Palacios and Omer Atzili provided goal contributions upon their comebacks to the starting XI. Al-Ain also registered a gargantuan 24 attempts to Shabab Al-Ahli’s 14, plus edged possession percentage 54-46.

A two-point gap in second to first-placed Wasl appears tantalizing for record 14-time champions.

Pressure builds ahead of decisive December

A breathless run awaits in ADNOC Pro League.

International breaks in October and November, allied with an imminent AFC Asian Cup, have produced a bottleneck. This congested run of four top-flight matchweeks until late December’s lengthy pause — plus, for those eligible, an AFC Champions League group-stage finale and remaining ADIB Cup quarterfinal, second legs — has created an intense pressure of its own.

Downturns in form can soon become deadly in a division that has already seen eight managerial changes. This is one more than Roshn Saudi League, despite that competition boasting four more clubs.

The same can be applied to ADNOC Pro League’s foreign players, ahead of the opening of the winter transfer window on Jan. 22.

Strong performances should negate the desire for change. Underwhelm, however, and clubs may find an urge to shake things up impossible to resist before Feb. 16’s preliminary restart.


Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024
Updated 58 min 14 sec ago
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Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024

Guler enhances burgeoning reputation with goal for Turkiye in win over debutant Georgia at Euro 2024
  • Substitute Kerem Aktürkoğlu scored a breakaway goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for Türkiye’s third
  • Georgia’s players dealt well with an intimidating atmosphere created by Türkiye’s fans

DORTMUND: Arda Guler enhanced his reputation as one of Europe’s brightest young stars by curling home a brilliant second-half goal to help Türkiye to a 3-1 win over tournament debutant Georgia at the European Championship on Tuesday.
The 19-year-old forward brought a strong end to his first season at Real Madrid to the Euros by cutting in from the right and bending a fierce shot into the top corner in the 65th minute, regaining the lead for Turkiye at 2-1 in a Group F match played in a febrile and intense atmosphere in Dortmund.
Substitute Kerem Aktürkoğlu scored a breakaway goal in the final seconds of stoppage time for Turkiye’s third.
This was a nation-stopping moment for Georgia, a South Caucasus country of 3.7 million people that are making their debut in an international soccer tournament since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, amid protests and political turmoil back home.
Georgia’s players dealt well with an intimidating atmosphere created by Turkiye’s fans and responded to Mert Muldur’s volleyed finish for the Turks in the 25th with an equalizer by Georges Mikautadze in the 32nd.
Guler’s intervention was crucial, though, and it was the latest in a string of outside-of-the-area strikes at these Euros. It also was another demonstration of his talent that was on display when he scored five goals in five games to finish a Spanish league season that he mostly missed because of injury. He was an unused substitute in the Champions League final that Madrid won.
He’ll likely find game time even harder to come by next season following the arrival of Kylian Mbappé and Endrick, even if Real Madrid coach Carlo Ancelotti is aware he has a gem on his hands in Guler.
Georgia, at No. 75 the lowest-ranked nation at Euro 2024, could easily have snatched a point from a game played at a frenetic pace.
In stoppage time and with their goalkeeper Giorgi Mamardashvili upfield in search of a goal, Georgia whipped in a free kick that struck the post before a shot from the rebound was cleared off the line.
The resulting corner — sent in with Mamardashvili still up in the box — was cleared and Aktürkoğlu had the freedom of Westfalenstadion to run through unchallenged to sidefoot the ball into an empty net.


Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye

Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye
Updated 18 June 2024
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Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye

Germany’s Turks give ‘host nation’ welcome to Turkiye
  • Ozcan has said the team needs to capitalize on the large Turkish population and passionate support in Germany
  • “Our hearts beat for Turkiye, for home. Of course, Germany is also home for us, but we are Turks,” said fan Cengiz Catalpinar

DORTMUND/MUNICH: Tens of thousands of Turkiye fans draped in the country’s red flag celebrated ahead of the country’s first match of Euro 2024 against neighbor Georgia in Dortmund on Tuesday, creating a festival atmosphere akin to a host nation to welcome the team.
Almost 3 million people with Turkish roots live in Germany, following a wave of official migration that began in the 1960s. The close ties are reflected in both the German and Turkish football teams. Germany captain Ilkay Gundogan has Turkish roots, while Turkiye’s midfielder Salih Ozcan, was born in Cologne and plays for Borussia Dortmund.
Ozcan has said the team needs to capitalize on the large Turkish population and passionate support in Germany.
Heavy rain and forecasts of thunderstorms closed Dortmund’s 25,000 capacity fan zone and other giant viewing spots in the cities of North Rhine Westphalia, Germany’s most populous state, but fans en route to the stadium made good on their promise to make some noise. Berlin’s two fan zones were also closed due to bad weather.
“Our hearts beat for Turkiye, for home. Of course, Germany is also home for us, but we are Turks,” said fan Cengiz Catalpinar.
Mehmet Guelcicek had driven for two days from Zurich in Switzerland to reach Dortmund and watch the match.
“We are Turks and always there with the team.”
Many Turks were also celebrating the Muslim festival of Eid Al-Adha, when typically, animals such as sheep are sacrificed.
Ugur Aydin walked with an inflatable sheep.
“We saved him from the Eid sacrifice festival and are celebrating our own festival today with a 3 point win over Georgia. And hopefully the same again for the next two games, against Portugal and the Czech Republic,” he said.
Turkiye begin their Euro 2024 campaign against newcomers Georgia knowing a winning start in one of the tournament’s weaker groups would give them a great chance of making the knockout stages after disappointing last time around.
In hot sunshine in Munich in southern Germany fans began to stream into the city’s fan zone.
“This is a big deal for us and it is great to be in Germany for the tournament, to join with the Turkish community here. We are the second hosts,” said Erdem Sakinc, a 21-year-old student from Ankara studying in Germany.
Georgia, meanwhile, are playing in their first ever major tournament and are the clear underdogs
Georgia fan Veronika Gogokhia said, “This is a historical moment for our country and our team. This is a debut and the whole of Georgia, all Georgians all over the world are really excited,” she said.
Later on Tuesday at the stadium around 40 fans from each set of supporters were involved in brief scuffles and police moved in between them, a Reuters reporter inside the stadium said.


Mainoo happy to build with Ten Hag at Man Utd

Mainoo happy to build with Ten Hag at Man Utd
Updated 18 June 2024
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Mainoo happy to build with Ten Hag at Man Utd

Mainoo happy to build with Ten Hag at Man Utd
  • Mainoo’s breakthrough season with the Red Devils earned him a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2024
  • “Happy to be building with him, he’s already got two trophies and hopefully there is more to come,” he said

BLANKENHAIN, Germany: England midfielder Kobbie Mainoo is happy speculation about Manchester United boss Erik ten Hag’s future is over after he was given his first-team chance by the Dutchman.
Mainoo’s breakthrough season with the Red Devils, which included scoring the winning goal in a FA Cup final win over English champions Manchester City, earned him a call-up to Gareth Southgate’s squad for Euro 2024.
Despite winning a second trophy in two seasons at Old Trafford, Ten Hag’s future remained in doubt after United finished eighth in the Premier League.
However, Ten Hag confirmed on Sunday he has been told by the club he will remain in charge next season.
“Happy to be building with him, he’s already got two trophies and hopefully there is more to come,” Mainoo told reporters at England’s training camp on Tuesday.
“It’s nice to have that piece of mind. We know what manager we are going back to.
“He put so much trust in me and belief in me. I can’t thank him enough.”
Mainoo came off the bench late on in England’s 1-0 win over Serbia on Sunday to make his competitive debut for Southgate’s team.
England next face Denmark in Frankfurt on Thursday and Mainoo is looking forward to facing two of his Manchester United team-mates, Rasmus Hojlund and Christian Eriksen.
Eriksen scored in the Danes’ 1-1 draw with Slovenia in their opening game, three years on from suffering a cardiac arrest on the field during Euro 2020.
“Me and Ramsus are both young and we are quite close,” added Mainoo.
“Christian, I’ve learned a lot from him. The journey he’s been on since the last Euros has been amazing.
“If I am to play on Thursday I’ll need to put all that aside.”


FIFA offers tools to fight social media abuse to all 211 member countries

FIFA offers tools to fight social media abuse to all 211 member countries
Updated 18 June 2024
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FIFA offers tools to fight social media abuse to all 211 member countries

FIFA offers tools to fight social media abuse to all 211 member countries
  • FIFA said a number of teams competing at the ongoing European Championship and the upcoming Copa America have joined the SMPS
  • “We have already seen how effective the service has been in FIFA tournaments and it is only logical that we make it available to all 211 FIFA Member Associations,” Infantino said

GENEVA: FIFA’s social media tools designed to protect players from online abuse will now be available to all 211 member associations and their teams, world soccer’s governing body said on Tuesday, coinciding with the International Day for Countering Hate Speech.
The Social Media Protection Service (SMPS), which was developed by FIFA and the players’ union FIFPRO, was first offered to all teams at the 2023 women’s World Cup to help moderate hate speech on social media and hide harmful content.
FIFA said a number of teams competing at the ongoing European Championship and the upcoming Copa America have joined the SMPS.
“We have already seen how effective the service has been in FIFA tournaments and it is only logical that we make it available to all 211 FIFA Member Associations, wherever and whenever they play,” FIFA President Gianni Infantino said.
“We need to protect all players, coaches, officials and teams from abuse, as well as their followers.”
The tool was launched at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar and since then FIFA said the service had hidden 2.6 million abusive comments from public view.
Nearly 31,000 cases of “abusive content” were reported to social media platforms — such as Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube — which led to consequences such as account suspensions.
Meanwhile, one in five players were the target of online abuse during the 2023 Women’s World Cup.
FIFA said the SMPS will also be used at upcoming events such as the Olympic Games in Paris, the Under-20 women’s World Cup in Colombia, the Futsal World Cup in Uzbekistan and the Under-17 women’s World Cup in the Dominican Republic.


England fan seen waking up in empty stadium at Euro 2024

England fan seen waking up in empty stadium at Euro 2024
Updated 18 June 2024
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England fan seen waking up in empty stadium at Euro 2024

England fan seen waking up in empty stadium at Euro 2024
  • “I’ve just woken up. It’s four o’clock in the morning,” the unidentified fan says in the video

GELSENKIRCHEN, Germany: A worse-for-wear England fan woke up cold and confused in an empty stadium hours after the end of his team’s Euro 2024 clash with Serbia, according to a video on social media.
“I’ve just woken up. It’s four o’clock in the morning,” the unidentified fan says in the video showing rows of empty seats behind him at the stadium in Gelsenkirchen where England won 1-0 in their opening game on Sunday night.
The video, viewed hundreds of thousands of times, prompted laughter among fellow England supporters, though some questioned how security had missed the snoozing fan and also why the lights were still on in the early hours at the stadium.
“This is what happens when you watch Sleepy Southgate ball!” quipped one poster, referring to coach Gareth Southgate’s team’s less than scintillating second half performance.