It’s not their Knight
Title hopefuls Jazira and Shabab Al Ahli lose ground with shock defeats
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.