Everton Ribeiro the star at Al Ahli, Al Ain need players: Arabian Gulf League talking points

With Round 1 of the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League in the books, John McAuley takes a look at the results and talking points from the opening round.

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Everton Ribeiro will light up league

Predictably, Asamoah Gyan garnered the headlines against Emirates club on Saturday, as the former Al Ain striker marked his second league debut with a goal for Al Ahli. However, it was the performance of Everton Ribeiro that really stood out. The Brazilian playmaker was at his mischievous best throughout, at the heart of everything Ahli did, a constant thorn in Emirates’ side as the hosts won 4-0. At one point he nut-megged an opponent with a back-heel, which was later clipped for a video and released by the club on their social media accounts. Ribeiro was superb last season as Ahli wrestled back the title. He could be even better this campaign.

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Al Ain must add reinforcements

Zlatko Dalic emerged for Sunday’s post-match press conference and looked like he had been on the losing side. The Garden City club were nowhere near their best in their narrow victory at home to Baniyas, having to rely on Caio’s wonderful 70th-minute strike to seal a 1-0 win. The match came four days after Al Ain had returned from Uzbekistan with a place in the Asian Champions League semi-finals. Clearly, fighting on multiple fronts is taking its toll, even at this early stage. Dalic called for the management to make “two or three” signings — Al Ain blatantly need it. For all their resources, they do not possess the strength in depth for a club with their ambitions.

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Ali Mabkhout leads line expertly at Jazira​

Mirko Vucinic’s continued absence had some Al Jazira supporters calling for the club to enter the transfer market. The 2014/15 AGL top scorer seems set to remain on the sidelines until January, while he recovers from last season’s surgery. Yet, back then Ali Mabkhout stepped up and stepped into the Vucinic void, serving as Jazira’s spearhead as the club rebounded from an awful start. Mabkhout finished the campaign with 23 goals from 23 matches. His 2016/17 tally is already up and running after a double in Friday’s 3-1 victory against Al Wasl. Could Jazira recruit anyone better at the moment? Given the room to shine up top, Mabkhout quickly reinforced his star quality.

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Al Nasr exhibit remarkable resolve

The past few weeks at Al Nasr have particularly stung. The Dubai club were stripped of their 3-0, first-leg victory in the Asian Champions League quarter-final against El Jaish and then bowed out of the tournament last Wednesday. The fallout from Wanderley’s allegedly falsified passport continues. So a long trip to Al Dhafra on Sunday was probably the last thing they needed. Yet Nasr dug deep and returned from the Western Region with three points. The 4-2 win included four spot-kicks — three for Nasr — but after paying such a penalty in Asia, it was impressive to kick-start their AGL season on the right note. It says a lot for both their focus and fight.

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New boys show promise

Typically, promoted sides are expected to struggle, especially at the beginning of the season when new teammates and new surroundings can take some getting used to. Kalba found that the last time they played in the AGL, when they were rooted to the bottom of the table for the entire 2014/15 campaign. Then, they did not register a league victory until Round 12. However, they are already on the board this time, after a gutsy 1-0 win at Dibba on Friday. Fellow new boys Hatta impressed, too, holding the much-fancied Al Wahda to a 0-0 draw at home on the same day. Both clubs now need to build on that momentum.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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Published: September 20, 2016 04:00 AM

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