Henk ten Cate said he was “ashamed” of Al Jazira’s performance as the champions labuored to a 2-1 home victory against promoted Ajman on the opening night of the Arabian Gulf League.
There was not much to be proud about in the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s performance, with summer signing Romarinho netting on his debut 10 minutes from time to rescue three points his side barely deserved.
They were fortunate to gain all three after substitute Waleed Khalid had cancelled out Ali Mabkhout’s opener – and Ten Cate labeled it the “worst performance” since he took over in December 2015.
“It was horrible, awful, it was so bad. I was in agony on the bench seeing everything going wrong,” said an unhappy Dutchman, who said he was as much to blame as his players.
“The only good thing about the game was the three points. It was the worst performance since I’ve been here. To be honest I was ashamed of the performance.
“The opposition were very organised and of course they’re going to defend. We were lucky to win. We won’t be so lucky in the future.”
On-field temperatures peaked at 38 degrees at kick-off with humidity at 65 per cent as water breaks were schedule after 30-minute intervals – but Ten Cate failed to blame the weather, instead believing his players need to rediscover the hunger that brought them a first AGL title in six years last term.
He added: “I think it was the best wake-up call ever. We should realise when we don’t work hard and when we don’t challenge for the ball in midfield we are a very normal side.
“We are only a good side when everyone gives 100 per cent and I don’t feel the players gave 100 per cent today. We will lose games like this in the future if we don’t play without focus and concentration.”
They lit up the league on their way to the title last year, but Jazira failed to shine bright as they snuck past the promoted Orange Brigade.
Prolific Mabkhout hit a stunning 33 league goals that helped steer Jazira to a first title in six seasons in 2016/17, and the UAE forward opened his account for the new term after just 16 minutes to seemingly put his side on the road for a routine opening day victory.
Yet it was anything but straightforward for Ten Cate’s men against Ayman Elramady’s well-drilled Brigade who deservedly levelled when Khalid punished an atrocious Fares Juma mistake by sliding through Ali Khaseif’s legs six minutes after coming on.
Summer signing from now defunct Qatar Stars League side El Jaish, Romarinho – who had teed Mabkhout up for the opener – spared the Pride of Abu Dhabi’s blushes 10 minutes from time as he thrashed home a loose ball to earn the champions victory.
In stifling September heat it is harsh to judge last season’s runaway champions after one game, but they will need to adapt quickly if they are to defend the crown they lifted with an 11-point gap to runners-up Al Wasl.
They began brightly enough, Mbark Boussoufa’s free-kick almost headed into his own net by Brazilian attacker Adeilson, while captain Mohammad Yaqoob had to be alert to then cut out the Moroccan’s cross.
It wasn’t long before the deadlock was broken and its breaker even less of a surprise.
Romarinho doggedly chased down a long punt from defence and beat Hassan Zahran to it, before driving into the box and selflessly squaring to Mabkhout who bundled in.
Adeilson served notice of Ajman’s intent with a tame shot straight at Ali Khaseif. At the other end a bewildering run from brilliant youngster Khalfan Mubarak yielded a stinging shot that Ali Mohamed pawed behind, while intervention was also needed to stop Mabkhout connecting with Romarinho’s cute cut-back.
Ajman had the ball in the net on the stroke of half-time when Adeilson tucked in after Bakary Kone’s effort was stopped superbly by Khaseif – but Kone was rightly flagged for offside.
Jazira’s struggle to add to their tally instilled hope in the visitors with Adeilson letting fly from distance as the second half got underway, but Khaseif was behind it.
Summer arrival from Wasl, Hassan Zahran, then somehow got a foot to toe the ball behind to prevent Mabkhout a certain second – although the referee awarded a goal-kick.
Ajman had the ball in the net a second time just after the hour – and this time it counted – substitute Khalid finishing superbly to punish atrocious defending from Fares Juma.
Former Al Ain centre-back Juma tried a lazy flick and then played Khalid onside as he was slipped through on goal, the winger sliding the ball through Khaseif’s legs to deservedly level the scores.
Ten Cate threw former Al Ahli striker Ahmed Khalil on for his debut in search of a winner and Romarinho spared Juma and Jazira’s blushes when he blasted home a loose ball which deflected into his path from Mabkhout’s shot after Ajman failed to clear a free-kick.
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