Asamoah Gyan is back and it’s like he never left, as Al Ahli fly high in opener
Al Ahli 4-0 Emirates
Ahli: Gyan (pen) 4’, Al Hammadi 71’, Khalil 89’, 90’
STORY OF MATCH
DUBAI // Asamoah Gyan took only four minutes to slip back into the groove.
The self-styled “Baby Jet”, who dazzled and danced his way through UAE football for four trophy-laden years at Al Ain, returned to the Arabian Gulf League on Saturday, only this time he was sporting Al Ahli red and black.
The switch to his former club’s bitter rivals does not seem to have affected him one jot, though, as Gyan marked his second league debut with a goal not long into the champions’ season opener against Emirates club at the Rashid Stadium.
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The frontman, setting out on a year-long loan from China’s Shanghai SIPG, won a penalty and then casually converted it. It was his 96th goal in 84 UAE top-flight matches, his second for Ahli following last week’s Arabian Gulf Cup strike against his old employers. Forget the club crest on his chest, however difficult that is for now, and it feels like he never went away.
Gyan was withdrawn on the hour, applauded off the pitch by the scattering of loyal supporters who braved the stifling early evening conditions to watch Ahli embark on their title defence.
They witnessed Everton Ribeiro in sparkling form, too, the playmaker a constant threat to Emirates, a bright spark alongside Gyan and a seemingly fully rehabilitated Rodrigo Lima. It represents a frightening front three.
However, for all their dominance and dynamism, Ahli left it relatively late to score their other three goals. They came from a couple of substitutes, with Ismail Al Hammadi and Ahmed Khalil, fresh from recent exertions with the UAE national team, underlining Ahli’s strength in depth.
Al Hammadi struck first, one of the smallest players on the pitch rising highest on 71 minutes to head home Abdulaziz Haikal’s cross. Ahli manager Cosmin Olaroiu particularly enjoyed it. He would have delighted in Khalil’s double at the death as well, when the UAE captain scored via a deflected free-kick and then a calm finish. He had earlier struck the crossbar.
That mattered little, though, other than securing Khalil the match ball. The champions are off and running.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Everton Ribeiro – The Ahli playmaker was at his creative best, with the flicks and tricks to repeatedly gazump the opposition. Worked tirelessly in incredibly humid conditions. Feels as if a significant season lies ahead for him.
WHAT THE MANAGERS SAID
Theo Bucker, Emirates: “There was a chance for us, because Al Ahli’s level might have been down because of the Arabian Gulf Super Cup, but it didn’t happen because Al Ahli as a group had too much experience and professionalism. This was the difference to our team, which is completely new and we need time to build that. Your players can be paralysed against the big names from a big team.”
Cosmin Olaroiu, Al Ahli, on selecting between Gyan and Khalil: “I like to have such problems, problems which are good to choose. It is better than having nothing. This was the first step and first win in the league. I’m very happy to score and control the game. Overall, it was a good game for us. In the performance, we created chances in different ways. There are a lot of things we need to fix and make right. Hopefully, we’ll able to make the best choices available to us.”
Ahli burst out of the blocks and could have been out of sight early on. But Emirates eventually acquitted themselves well before succumbing late on. Job done for Ahli.
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Published: September 17, 2016 04:00 AM