The latest action in the Adnoc Pro League provided plenty of cheer, from a buoyant Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium cheering Al Jazira to victory against champions Al Ain, and high-profile summer signing Paco Alcacer again on the scoresheet for Sharjah. We pick out the highlights from Round 3.
Story of the round
Matchday 3 kicked off on Thursday with Sharjah maintaining their 100 per cent start to the season – even if they were made to work hard for it. Having trailed twice at Ajman, Cosmin Olaroiu’s side sealed the points through Paco Alcacer’s 72nd-minute header. It was timely for team and player; Alcacer had moments earlier missed from the penalty spot.
Thursday featured two draws played out by Dubai’s long-standing clubs, with Al Wasl held 1-1 at home to Dibba Al Fujairah and Al Nasr’s away trip to Khorfakkan ending goalless. One positive point for Wasl, though: Fabio De Lima scored once more as he continues to way back from last season’s serious injury.
The night’s headline act, however, belonged to Al Jazira. The 2020/21 league winners dealt reigning champions Al Ain their first defeat of their defence, triumphing 2-1 at a vibrant Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium. A superb strike from Abdullah Ramadan opened the scoring for the hosts, before Kodjo Laba equalised. In-form Ali Mabkhout then proved the match-winner, latching onto a defensive mistake on 52 minutes to fire home. Al Ain were reduced to 10 men soon after when Bandar Al Ahbabi was given a straight red.
Friday was marked by two of the more unheralded teams continuing their fine starts. Newly promoted Al Bataeh made it two wins from three with a 1-0 victory at struggling Baniyas - Lourency struck a stellar effort to send his team third in the table – with 2015 Asian player of year Ahmed Khalil making his long-awaited debut (and comeback).
Meanwhile, dark horses Ittihad Kalba saw off Al Dhafra at home with two goals in four second-half minutes. Habib Fardan, another long-ago mainstay of the UAE national team set-up, set his side on road to victory.
Closing out the round, Omar Khrbin came back to haunt former employers by opening the scoring in Shabab Al Ahli’s 2-1 win against Al Wahda at the Rashid Stadium. Abdullah Hamad did draw the visitors level not long before half-time, only for Igor Jesus’ stooping header on 51 minutes to clinch the points. Home defender Ahmed Jamil, though, saw red late on.
Player of the round: Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira)
The Jazira marksman was the undoubted star in the round, when a sublime back-heeled pass set up Ramadan to power the hosts in front, and then a typically opportune finish gave them the victory. Mabkhout, already the all-time leading scorer in both the league and for his country, now has six goals in three appearances this campaign. Last season’s woes appear well and truly behind him.
Manager of the round: Marcel Keizer (Al Jazira)
The week’s marquee match required cool heads and main men to rise to the occasion, with Keizer getting the tactical battle right to see off champions Al Ain. The Dutchman, who led the club to the league crown two seasons ago, was thought to be on his way out of the Abu Dhabi side following last year’s disappointing title defence. However, Jazira sit joint top in the albeit-fledgling table, with three wins from three.
Goal of the round: Brian Ramirez (Ittihad Kalba)
Ramadan’s rocket against Al Ain was fantastic, but it was overshadowed this week by Kalba’s second against Dhafra. A full 20 passes were exchanged by almost all 11 home players before Fardan’s flick sent Ramirez through. The Argentine recruit, whose contribution is no doubt increased by the club's shrewd summer investment, fired home. A true team goal that reinforced Kalba’s early promise.