Adnoc Pro League wrap: Al Ain hit seven, Pjanic debut delight, and Omar Abdulrahman stars

Round 2 of the 2022/23 campaign sparked into life with standout strikers making headlines

Kodjo Laba, the winner of both the Golden Ball and Golden Boot awards last season, led the charge with four goals for the defending champions Al Ain against Al Dhafra. Photo: UAE Pro League
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The new Adnoc Pro League season feels well and truly up and running following a matchday full of goals. Champions Al Ain hit seven, Ali Mabkhout grabbed a hat-trick, and star signing Miralem Pjanic excelled on debut for Sharjah. We pick out the highlights from Round 2.

Story of the round

Ali Mabkhout was the standout performer on Friday, scoring three goals in Al Jazira’s 4-2 win at Khorfakkan. It could have even been more, had the league’s all-time record goalscorer not missed a penalty. Still, it marked Mabkhout’s 15th top-flight treble — a remarkable feat. Add to his double in Round 1, the striker is off to a flier.

Al Wasl’s 2-1 away victory at new boys Al Bataeh may have been sealed by a Gilberto brace, but the night belonged to Omar Abdulrahman. The midfielder, deployed a little deeper in an incredibly attacking line-up, showcased some of his still-there talent, much to the delight of the raucous travelling fans. Turning 31 next week, the hope is the injury-ravaged playmaker can continue in this vein.

Sharjah midfielder Miralem Pjanic, left, in action. Photo: UAE Pro League

The headline act on Friday, though, was undoubtedly Pjanic. Signed two days previously, the former Roma, Juventus, and Barcelona midfielder slotted seamlessly into Sharjah’s team, playing an integral role in their 3-0 home win against Baniyas. It was Pjanic’s corner that led the opener, while he scored the second, from the penalty spot. He created multiple other chances, too. A debut that suggests even starrier times lay ahead.

There were plenty of good signs, also, for Shabab Al Ahli, who bounced back from defeat in last week’s opener with a come-from-behind, 2-1 triumph at Dibba Al Fujairah. Manager Leonardo Jardim’s second-half intervention told, with substitutes Cesar and Cheickna Doumbia getting the goals. The latter, from Cesar’s no-look pass, came four minutes from time.

The result of Round 2 took root in the Garden City, as Al Ain thumped sorry Al Dhafra 7-0. The champions, seeking to rebound from an opening-day draw, were electric, with Kodjo Laba plundering four goals and high-profile summer signing Andriy Yarmolenko opening his account for the club. Serhiy Rebrov’s side appear to have clicked into gear.

Thorsten Fink’s reign at Al Nasr has lift-off following a 2-0 win at home to Ajman. The former Bayern Munich midfielder, whose side drew 1-1 at Dhafra last week, has Jassim Yaqoub and Omar Juma to thank for the three points, although he needed Juma's 96th-minute intervention to make safe the result.

Matchday 2 was completed by the shock result of the week, when Ittihad Kalba stunned Al Wahda in Abu Dhabi to emerge 1-0 winners. Leandro Spadacio fired home the only goal of the game not long after the half hour. While Wahda will be understandably disappointed — they should really have had at least one first-half penalty — ambitious Kalba are expected to upset a few this season.

Player of the round: Kodjo Laba (Al Ain)

There should really be no one else after the Togo international’s four-goal haul against Dhafra. Last season’s top scorer was visibly dismayed in Round 1, when he squandered a 103rd-minute penalty to give Al Ain the win at Ajman. So what did he do? Notched a “super hat-trick” — his third since joining the club in 2019 — in the very next game. Laba now has 62 goals in 65 UAE top-flight appearances. Some return.

Al Ain forward Andriy Yarmolenko, left, opened his account for his new club in the 7-0 win over Al Dhafra. Photo: UAE Pro League

Manager of the round: Serhiy Rebrov (Al Ain)

A couple of candidates this week — Jardim deserves credit for Shabab Al Ahli’s turnaround — but when your team wins 7-0, it’s hard to argue against. Rebrov put aside last week’s opening draw, when afterwards he voiced fears about the toll the gruelling early-September weather wreaked on players, to guide his side to the league’s widest-margin victory in four-and-a-half years. When Al Ain click, they’re a joy to watch.

Goal of the round: Kodjo Laba (Al Ain)

Al Ain’s fourth goal of the rout, and Laba’s hat-trick, exemplified the football Rebrov demands. The build-up featured 18 passes, with the final few sequences comprising brilliantly fluid and fast interplay — Yarmolenko, Ahmed Barman and Bandar Al Ahbabi were key. It left Soufiane Rahimi to cross for Laba to head home. A truly superb team goal.

Updated: September 12, 2022, 7:17 AM