Everton Ribeiro finding form at the right time as Al Ahli face crunch Champions League match

After a dominant display in the fChampions League last-16 irst-leg, Everton Ribeiro is finding his best form at just the right time for Al Ahli, writes John McAuley.

Everton Ribeiro, centre, showed in the Asian Champions League last-16 first leg how effective he can be for Al Ahli. STR / AFP
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Everton Ribeiro flicked the ball over Ibrahim Diaky’s head, feinted his way through two more rivals and forced Ahmed Barman to take the Brazilian’s legs from under him.

Barman promptly collected a yellow card — justifiably, too — yet the foul seemed his only option, an admission that, much like his Al Ain teammates, he simply could not cope with Al Ahli’s creator-in-chief.

Ribeiro had run the Garden City club ragged in the first half of last week’s Asian Champions League last-16 first leg in Dubai, teasing and taunting as the hosts sought to strike the initial blow.

Earlier, he had conjured a golden opportunity for Majed Hassan and even outwitted Omar Abdulrahman with an audacious piece of skill.

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This was Ribeiro at his inventive best, the Ribeiro who claims to have previously tempted Manchester United and AC Milan, the Ribeiro who in February coaxed from Ahli a reported €9 million (Dh36m) in transfer fee and a further €4.5m-per-year in salary.

Yet this was the same Ribeiro who for a long time struggled to justify Ahli’s outlay.

After scoring on debut, he managed only two more goals in 12 domestic appearances.

The problem was not entirely his doing: coming into a new country, a new culture and a new league always requires a period of adaptation, while Ahli struggled to regularly find the net and Ahmed Khalil was not the perfect foil up front. But, still, the critics circled.

Gradually, though, the real Ribeiro has begun to ­materialise.

He scored in each of Ahli’s final three Champions League group matches, helping the Dubai club secure two victories to reach the knockout stages for the first time.

Then, last week he was the principal playmaker on a pitch that included Abdulrahman.

Finally, Ribeiro is living up to his billing and another standout performance is required in Wednesday night’s clash with Al Ain if Ahli are to continue on the continent.

Even if they do not, this year’s competition has given reason for optimism about their prized No 8.

Ribeiro has proven he possesses the talent to be the league’s main man next ­season.

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