Champions Al Ain will have a couple of worthy challengers attempting to dethrone them this season – but Al Jazira will not be one of them.
It is not just that their 2-0 home win against the Pride of Abu Dhabi opened up a 10-point gap between these fierce and famous rivals, there is a chasm in the quality between the men from the Garden City and the capital city.
Abel Braga’s side have bags of individual quality, striker Mirko Vucinic among the finest players to ever grace the Arabian Gulf League.
However, while they have been frantically floundering for an identity since the Brazilian last delivered the title to Abu Dhabi, the Boss have taken charge of the UAE’s footballing landscape, winning three of the last four league championships.
Despite suffering the loss of club legend Asamoah Gyan, sold to Chinese super power Shanghai SIPG in the summer after finishing as the AGL’s top scorer in three of his four seasons in the UAE, the Boss look even more of a unit.
That was evidenced by the 53rd minute goal that broke Jazira’s resistence.
Nigerian striker Emmanuel Emenike did brilliantly to hold the ball up and feed Omar Abdulrahman.
The 24-year-old played a one-two with Lee Myung-joo, the South Korean taking a sublime return ball and calmly side-footing into the roof of the net to send the Hazza into raptures.
Braga even alluded to Al Ain’s collective strength in his post-match press conference, admitting the best team had won.
“Al Ain has many excellent elements, distinguished by teamwork. That was obvious when they scored the first goal,” said the 63-year-old.
“Emenike, Omar Abdulrahman and Felippe Bastos, they work in harmony together, which proves they are a very strong team.”
He also ruled out his side challenging for the title this season.
“Mathematically speaking this is impossible,” he said.
“We are going to continue the hard work and have players with an offensive attitude, but we lack other aspects. Through time and hard work we will evolve.”
There wasn’t an awful amount of quality on show in the opening 45 minutes, with players seemingly caught up in the pulsating atmosphere swarming around them.
The AGL can often be accused of being an empty vessel, with stadiums huge shells devoid of atmosphere.
That could not be said last night, with the environment truly worthy of the Al Clasico nickname.
Two boisterous sets of supporters totalling 12,417 ensured a cavernous atmosphere, even if the quality in the stands didn’t immediately transcend onto the pitch.
Fellipe Bastos sent a dipping free-kick off target and then fired over wildy after combining with Omar Abdulrahman.
Emenike dragged a shot wide before failing to get on the end of an Abdulrahman cross after he had linked well with older brother Mohammed.
At the other end Jefferson Farfan and Vucinic fashioned an opening for Thiago Neves who sent a fizzing effort just wide of Khalid Essa’s goal.
Jazira toiled throughout though, surprisingly stoic in defence but uncharacteristically limp in attack.
They carried a threat on the counter-attack but their forwards simply weren’t cunning enough to open up a rigid home defence.
Boss Braga cut a frustrated figure throughout, gesticulating wildly on the sidelines.
He returned in the summer with hopes the AGL title would follow suit. If anything they look further from away from it than ever.
Bastos crowned the win with the last kick of the game, teasing several weary Jazira defenders before rifling a left-foot shot inside the far post.
Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic declared the performance the best ever during his tenure.
“We respected our competitors and realised we were playing against a big opponent in the championship. The fans are also one of the reasons why the team has played so good,” said the Croatian.
“My team has played the best game ever. I’m very happy with their performance.”
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