Ahli manager O'Leary suffers losing start in Western Region

The Irishman's reign gets off to the worst possible start as his side are defeated 2-0 by Al Dhafra on the opening evening of the UAE Pro League.

AL DHAFRA // David O'Leary's reign as Al Ahli manager got off to the worst possible start last night, as his side, captained by Fabio Cannavaro, the former Fifa World Cup winner, were defeated 2-0 by Al Dhafra on the opening evening of the UAE Pro League. Abass Lawal, Dhafra's Nigerian striker, opened the scoring in the 38th minute to make up for an earlier missed penalty before Mohammed Alsaedi, the home side captain, secured the points in a match where Ahli, undoubtedly favourites after a big spending summer, were outplayed.

Ahli's new boys initially looked threatening and the first meaningful effort on goal came not from Bance, the tall striker signed from Mainz, but rather the compact midfielder Pinga. The former Al Wahda midfielder, however, so instrumental in Wahda's title success last season, saw his long-range drive cannon off the foot of the post. With Cannavaro harshly seeing yellow in the eighth minute for a handball, the Ahli defence looked shaky and when the Italian and teammate Abdullah Ahmed were adjudged to have bundled over Alsaedi inside the area, only a superb diving save from Obaid al Taweela prevented Lawal from giving his side an early lead from the penalty spot.

It was an escape for the Dubai club, but an escape they failed to learn from. As Ahli continued to attack they were leaving space in the middle of the park that the excellent Mohammed Berrabah worked to exploit. When the Morrocan found Lawal with a long ball shortly before half-time, the Nigerian showed no hesitation to slip the ball past the goalkeeper and restore his status as a favourite of the vocal home support.

Dhafra began the second half stronger with al Taweela being forced to make two fine saves from close range after Cannavaro was beaten for pace by Boris Kabi. Ahli came closest to getting back in the game as Pinga's free-kick was palmed round the post by Mohammed Altamimi. With little more than 10 minutes left, O'Leary threw on Adil Salem in a bid to steal an equaliser, but within seconds it was too late; Alsaedi picking the ball up on the edge of the Ahli area and striking viciously into the top corner. gmeenaghan@thenational.ae

Al Dhafra Lawal 38', Alsaedi 80' Man of the match Berrabah (Al Dhafra)