Vucinic’s goals have Al Jazira flying high again

International break comes just as Abu Dhabi side start hitting their stride in Arabian Gulf League, writes Ali Khaled

Mirko Vucinic, left, and Al Jazira celebrate scoring against Fujairah during their Arabian Gulf League match at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi on September 20, 2014. Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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For Eric Gerets, the latest international break could not have come at a worse time.

On Sunday night, Al Jazira's coach saw his side defeat Al Ain 4-3 in arguablyone of the best games of the Arabian Gulf League to date this season, but he has been left unable to build on that momentum for two weeks.

At the start of the season the Abu Dhabi club were a popular pick with pundits as a dark horse for the Arabian Gulf League title, and the signing of striker Mirko Vucinic from Juventus looked to be one of the shrewdest of the summer.

If there were doubts over either notion, they were blown away with a storm of attacking football at Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium on Sunday.

Vucinic was simply irrepressible, scoring four goals – two headers, a penalty and a powerful left-foot strike – to take his season tally to 10 goals in just five games.

Just as encouraging for Gerets was his team’s resilience in coming from behind to take the points.

In their previous match at Al Dhafra, Al Jazira were seconds away from going to the top of the league, when, at 3-2 up, they inexplicably piled forward in search of a fourth goal.

Instead, an injury-time equaliser left Gerets fuming and his team in third place.

Against Al Ain, they completed the job.

With the league programme set to resume on October 17, Al Jazira have to split facing the season’s two early pace setters, Al Wahda and Al Shabab, who also clashed on Sunday, with the Abu Dhabi club coming out on top 2-1.

With respect to those two clubs, Gerets will be more pleased that his team has a three-point lead over Al Ahli and is five points clear of Al Ain, although Al Ain have two games in hand.

Whether they can maintain a title challenge could be answered in their next fixture – an away trip to champions Ahli.

In many ways, it will be the ideal time to face Cosmin Olaroiu’s men. The Dubai club have yet to win at Maktoum Stadium this season, losing 4-2 to Shabab before playing out a dismal 0-0 draw with Ajman two weeks ago.

Sunday’s tame 1-1 draw at Fujairah hardly points at any improvement in form.

Having beaten Al Ain so spectacularly, a win against Al Ahli will be a statement of intent for Gerets’s men.

In Vucinic, Al Jazira have found the perfect replacement for the prolific Brazilian Ricardo Oliveira.

The Montenegrin’s pedigree is unquestioned; he won three league titles at Juventus and two Italian Cup medals with Roma.

At 31, his impact could rival that of Grafite at Al Ahli and Asamoah Gyan at Al Ain in recent times.

With Jucilei da Silva of Brazil, Argentinian Manuel Lanzini and Burkina Faso striker Jonathan Pitroipa completing their foreign contingent, Al Jazira look well-equipped to return to the standard that saw them win their first league title in 2011/12, as well as two President’s Cups in 2011 and 2012.

The seeds of this season’s re-emergence came last season. A third-place finish means they likely will take part in the 2015 Asian Champions League.

The club can also call on a strong core of UAE internationals, such as Ali Kasheif, Khamis Esmail and Ali Mabkhout – all of whom will be part of Mahdi Ali’s squad for the international doubleheader against Australia and Uzbekistan.

For once, even they will be itching to finish their duties with their beloved national team and return to the business of winning the AGL title. So will, no doubt, the flying Vucinic.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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