Al Shabab stop Al Ain from taking a march in three-way fight with Al Jazira at the top
DUBAI // Tied on the night at Al Shabab and tied at the top of the Arabian Gulf League, Al Ain enter an Asian Cup-enforced month-long break confident of building on strong foundations when domestic hostilities resume in February.
Zlatko Dalic’s side joined Al Jazira atop the UAE top flight after sneaking a late point out of Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium.
Edgar Bruno had given Shabab the lead when he converted a controversial penalty, but a late header from Mohammed Ahmed secured a share of the spoils.
Shabab’s Hassan Ibrahim was shown a second yellow with five minutes remaining.
“God willing, we maintain this level, but it will not be easy,” Dalic said.
“Omar Abdulrahman played only two games in the first half of the season and [Asamoah] Gyan also missed five or six games.
“With them back, we can maintain first position and can only be better in the second half of the season.”
Shabab had started the match without the suspended Henrique Luvannor and Al Ain were still missing the injured Abdulrahman, yet both sides looked to be missing more than simply personnel during the early stages. Neither team looked hungry for the win and neither team pressed the opposition.
Caio Junior later conceded he had set his side up to play for a draw in the first half.
“For me Al Ain are the best team in the league and we knew the result needed to be alive going into the second half,” the Shabab coach said.
“This was very important for us. Our strategy in the first 45 minutes was to understand the game and take it to the second half to get the win.”
The plan almost worked to perfection. After a quiet first-half that saw Bruno shoot off-target and Gyan have a header tipped over the bar, the second period burst into life.
First, the referee missed Ismail Ahmed’s handball in the box, but with the visitors appearing to have got lucky, karma kicked in.
The Emirati defender, jostling with Bruno in the area, was adjudged to have bundled the Brazilian over.
The visitors rightly protested, but Bruno picked himself up and fired past Khalid Essa.
“The referee did not give a penalty for us when the defender stopped the ball with his hand, but OK we have to forgive him,” Bruno said. “We got our chance through a penalty and took it.”
Dalic threw on Jires Kembo Ekoko as his side chased the game and, after a period of sustained pressure, the equaliser arrived.
Miroslav Stoch, otherwise ineffective, wormed his way to the byline in the 86th minute and stood a ball up at the back post for the flying figure of Ahmed to power a header into the far corner. “I’m happy because we were behind and managed to get the draw, but we came here to win.” Dalic said.
“A draw is enough for first position though, so now we go into the break [joint] top. My team are tired, but deserve congratulations.”
Star performer: Mohammed Ali
A heavyweight performance from the Shabab defender, who proved solid and composed to keep Asamoah Gyan quiet. A last-ditch clearance when Al Ain’s Ghanaian striker was sure to score was as good as a goal at the other end.
Under-performer: Miroslav Stoch
The Slovakian claimed an assist for his side’s goal, but with all the possession he had, he should be creating more. One of the most talented players in the league needs to impose himself in the big games and he will have been disappointed with his performance.
Key moment: 65th minute
The Shabab penalty changed the flow of the game. Ismail Ahmed was unfairly adjudged to have pushed Edgar Bruno, but perhaps referee Ammar Ali Al Junaibi was making up for the Emirati’s handball he had missed moments earlier?
Al Shabab Rating: 7/10
Ciao Junior’s team arrived with a plan and implemented it well. They played the first half defensively, while still having chances and took the lead in the second. Will be pleased to take a point, despite having deservedly led.
Al Ain Rating: 6/10
Never really got going until the final half-hour when they were forced to chase the game. Gyan was quiet and Stoch ineffective, but both players have the talent to change a game and it showed when the Slovak crossed for the equaliser.
The National’s verdict
The match started slowly as Shabab looked to squeeze any pace out of the game and take a draw into half time. Second half was much improved with both sides more dangerous. A draw was just about the right result
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Published: December 22, 2014 04:00 AM