Man of the match Mohammed Abdulrahman (Al Ain)
DUBAI // If Al Ahli have hogged the limelight thus far this season – and justifiably so – then their run across the continent seems to have inadvertently galvanised Al Ain, too.
The UAE champions most probably watched their old nemesis march through the Asian Champions League and into this month’s final, but it presumably did not make for easy viewing.
So Al Ain likely resolved to snatch back a share of the headlines, an endeavour that continued on Saturday night at Al Maktoum Stadium with a convincing 3-0 victory against Al Nasr.
Nasr had represented title rivals, and may well still do, but they could not seize the opportunity to leapfrog the leaders at the summit, departing their home bullied and beaten. Previously undefeated in the league, Nasr remain third, four points behind their opponents.
Al Ain, meanwhile, go from strength to strength. The win came courtesy of a Saeed Al Kathiri penalty, a sumptuous strike from Mohammed Fawzi and Ibrahim Diaky’s late goal. In truth, the points always appeared destined for the Garden City.
Even without foreign players Emmanuel Emenike (injured) and Ryan Babel (relegated to the substitute’s bench), Al Ain highlighted exactly why it will be difficult to wrest the trophy from their possession this season.
Al Kathiri and Fawzi gave them a commanding first-half lead, but Mohammed Abdulrahman deserved significant credit for creating both goals. First, he won the penalty on 26 minutes, then his burst forward and crossfield pass in injury time released Fawzi to loop a half-volley from 25 yards into the Nasr net. Diaky, a second-half sub, made the game safe nine minutes from the end.
Al Ain were en route to win No 7 from nine league matches, their lead at the summit extended to four points. Are you watching Ahli?
Man of the match
Mohammed Abdulrahman, Al Ain Usually plays second fiddle to brother Omar, but the Al Ain midfielder was at the hub of his side's best play, setting up both goals. Substituted just before the hour, although by that time his work was already done.
What managers said
Ivan Jovanovic, Al Nasr coach: “I believe it was a fair win for Al Ain. It was a game of great importance for both teams and in these cases small details determine the outcome. As a team we wanted too much to win, but after the two goals there was a lot of disappointment. Every mistake we made we were punished by a goal.”
Zlatko Dalic, Al Ain manager: “For us it’s a very important three points. We had control and did enough for the win. Now we have to turn our minds to next game against Ahli. Kathiri now is our first-choice striker. I gave him a chance because he’s scored in the last five matches. I’m happy with him, but we expect more from him.”
The National’s verdict
This represented a tricky test for Al Ain, with Nasr one of only two unbeaten sides in the league this season. However, they came through comfortably, an ominous sign considering they were missing key men. Next up for the champions? Ahli, at home, on December 5.
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