Arabian Gulf League talking points: Ibrahima Toure has Al Nasr looking up

John McAuley reviews the week that was in the Arabian Gulf League, and finds Ajman and Kabi are a good mix.

Since his suspension, Al Nasr’s Ibrahima Toure, centre, has found his scoring touch and could lead his team to their first title in 25 years. Hassan Alraisi / Al Ittihad
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Nasr fulfilling ambitions

A few days out from the beginning of the campaign, there was a quiet confidence around Al Maktoum Stadium.

Al Nasr, without a domestic trophy in 25 years, held rather lofty expectations.

Most likely, that had been transmitted from Ivan Jovanovic, the typically phlegmatic coach in his second season there, who has impressed with both his desire and dedication.

But, if last term’s top-four run came unstuck – Nasr missed out only on goal difference – they seem set for another sustained tilt at Asian Champions League qualification. Perhaps even more.

Friday’s dismantling of Fujairah moved Nasr to second in the table, the 5-1 victory courtesy in large part to Ibrahima Toure’s hat-trick. He is the bad boy come good.

Should Toure retain his form since his return from suspension – he has five goals in two matches – then Nasr may well challenge for the title. It is early days yet, but the Dubai club are in fine fettle.

Kabi crucial to Ajman

Late into this summer’s transfer window, with Ibrahima Toure banned for four matches and seemingly on his way out of Al Nasr, the Dubai club reportedly attempted to prise Boris Kabi from Ajman.

Their interest in the Ivorian should not shock: in 97 league matches before this term, he had 63 goals. It represents a formidable record for someone representing a club of Ajman’s stature.

For whatever reason – and a senior source at Nasr was reluctant to concede the club were ever serious about Kabi – the deal never materialised, and Kabi has only impressed further. In six league matches, the striker has struck four times.

At Kalba on Saturday, in an encounter between the division’s bottom clubs, Kabi scored twice to earn three precious points. Ajman leapt two places to 11th and are suddenly a victory away from the top half. Kabi’s continued boon is integral to his side’s survival.

Olaroiu has his Ahli back

Cosmin Olaroiu was justifiably pleased following Al Ahli’s 4-2 victory against Al Jazira on Saturday. His team had just put in their performance of the season, which, admittedly, was not difficult given that their previous five league matches included two draws and a defeat.

Jazira represented a considerable scalp, even for the defending champions. Eric Gerets’s side are the division’s highest scorers and have been rightfully tipped to challenge for the championship. In exposing their old failing, though – a significantly suspect defence – the old Ahli emerged. Grafite, their captain, has regained full fitness and returned to fine form, netting twice.

Ismail Al Hammadi, last season’s standout Emirati, was the game’s star performer. No wonder, then, that Olaroiu praised his victors in the immediate aftermath, noting his team had at last found their focus. “We developed a different spirit,” he said. “That is the difference. Now, when I looked around the locker room I thought ‘this is my Al Ahli’.”

Baniyas catch a break

The pressure had been mounting on Luis Garcia. Taking the reins this summer at a traditionally trigger-happy Baniyas, the Spaniard found his introduction to UAE football a struggle.

Without a victory in his first five league matches, he looked likely to become the club’s ninth managerial casualty in four years.

Then, on Friday, the tide turned. A 2-0 home win against a strong Al Shabab side has lifted the gloom, as evidenced at the final whistle, when Garcia and his coaching staff celebrated wildly.

The relief was palpable. Good fortune was plentiful, too. Shabab had what appeared a perfectly legitimate goal disallowed, rattled the woodwork and then were unlucky to concede a dubious opener.

Baniyas will care not one jot, though, since three vital points were secured. It tees them up well for coming fixtures against Al Wasl, Ajman and Fujairah. As a grateful Garcia lauded post-match, this is an opportunity to finally build momentum.

Calderon’s eventful reign

Judging by his introductory press briefing, Gabriel Calderon will inject some life into Al Wasl. Not that they particularly needed it, with the amount of upheaval at the Zabeel Stadium since the summer.

The club signed 14 players, completely refashioned their foreign contingent and, after four months of his tenure, deemed their coach not talented enough.

Jorginho parted company on Tuesday, with Calderon installed the following day. On Thursday, the Argentine met the media for the first time and quickly provided a swift run-through of his credentials.

There was no repeat on Saturday, though. Calderon was a no-show to the post-match news conference that followed his new team’s 2-2 draw at leaders Al Wahda.

The reason was that he had been sent to the stands during the match for rather aggressively contesting a throw-in decision. To be fair, it was dubious work by the assistant referee. That aside, Wasl performed well. Calderon will have plenty to crow about when he resurfaces.

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