It’s not their Knight

Ti­tle hope­fuls Jazira and Shabab Al Ahli lose ground with shock de­feats

Sport360 - - Arabian Gulf League - By Matthew Jones b @Mat­tJones360 ✉ mat­[email protected]

Shar­jah and Al Ain lead the way in the Ara­bian Gulf League af­ter 12 rounds of ac­tion – with both teams pick­ing up wins while ti­tle ri­vals slipped.

We look at a few top­ics of dis­cus­sion:

Not a hearty start from Her­tog

Shar­jah are now the sole re­main­ing un­beaten team this sea­son af­ter Al Jazira’s sur­pris­ing maiden de­feat of the cam­paign at lowly Al Dhafra.

Hardly the most help­ful of wel­comes for new Pride of Abu Dhabi coach Damien Her­tog, whose first game af­ter re­plac­ing the briefly bril­liant Mar­cel Keizer yielded a first de­feat in 12 games for the ti­tle hope­fuls against the Western Knights. All is not lost – not by any means. Joint lead­ers Shar­jah and Al Ain re­main a mere three points in front with a long jour­ney ahead.

But it is the meek na­ture of the de­feat that will rightly worry Dutch­man Her­tog. De­fence and goal­keeper were at fault for a timid opener, poked home by Ro­mulo dos San­tos – who was not done with Jazira. He un­stop­pably glanced in Humeid Abdulla’s cross to make it 2-0 with 12 min­utes left to play. And just when lethal Ali Mabkhout threat­ened a come­back with an 88th-minute strike to make it 2-1, the vul­ner­a­ble vis­i­tors con­ceded a third less than two min­utes later. Plenty to pon­der for the new man.

Shabab on the slide?

Jazira weren’t the only team with ti­tle as­pi­ra­tions to stum­ble this week as im­pres­sive Shabab Al Ahli fell to de­feat in Abu Dhabi as bril­liant Bani Yas strolled to a 3-0 win.

OK, so the fact Hen­rique Lu­van­nor was harshly sent off in the 67th minute with his side trail­ing only 1-0 skews the score­line slightly, but it’s a blot on Rodolfo Ar­ru­abar­rena’s record at the resur­gent Dubai side, who lost for just the sec­ond time in their last 12 games in all com­pe­ti­tions.

Like Jazira, de­feat is not crit­i­cal. The Ar­gen­tine’s men lie fourth and are just six points off the lead. Up next is a Pres­i­dent’s Cup clash against It­ti­had Kalba with an invit­ing game against Fu­jairah their next ap­point­ment in the league.

They need to win on their trav­els be­cause af­ter there is a big test loom­ing against the Pride of Abu Dhabi in the cap­i­tal on De­cem­ber 22. Lose that and their ti­tle am­bi­tions re­ally could un­ravel rather rapidly.

Boss must be­ware

Al Ain signed off for what could be a lengthy break from AGL ac­tion with a com­fort­able win over strug­gling Al Wasl. On the face of it Zo­ran Mamic’s men look in great shape head­ing into the FIFA Club World Cup – level at the top with Shar­jah.

But, they face New Zealand’s Team Welling­ton at Hazza Bin Zayed Sta­dium in the De­cem­ber 12 cur­tain-raiser for the con­ti­nen­tal club com­pe­ti­tion. Ne­go­ti­ate their way past the Ki­wis and they will be in the tour­na­ment proper.

A year ago, UAE ri­vals Jazira en­joyed a trip to the semi-fi­nals – and led Euro­pean gi­ants Real Madrid for a long time in their star-stud­ded clash. But a deep run in the tour­na­ment took its toll and they were in freefall af­ter Christ­mas – and they weren’t in good shape to be­gin with.

The Boss are in a com­mand­ing po­si­tion in the league, and Mamic will need to man­age his team very care­fully go­ing into the glam­our com­pe­ti­tion. There is a big pic­ture, but he will find it dif­fi­cult con­vey­ing that to his play­ers.

Yel­low wall: Ali Mabkhout scored twice but could not pre­vent Jazira from a maiden de­feat this sea­son.

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