Abu Dhabi: Al Ahli made a huge statement of intent in more ways than one in their Arabian Gulf League (AGL) title defence opener at home to Emirates on Saturday.
For the first time in AGL history, the Red Knights wore gold 'Champions' sleeve patches, before dismantling Theo Bucker's stubborn side 4-0.
Emirates had restricted Ahli to Asamoah Gyan's fourth-minute penalty, but eventually the Red Knights' attacking might proved irresistible and Esmail Al Hammadi (71) and a late brace from Ahmad Khalil (89) and (90+1) completed a deserved rout.
It was Ahli's third successive victory of the new UAE domestic season, following their 2-1 win over Al Jazira last Tuesday to capture the Arabian Gulf Super Cup and their 5-1 trouncing of Al Ain in the Arabian Gulf Cup the week before.
Unsurprisingly it was the prolific Gyan, the former Al Ain striker who has returned to the UAE after a season in China, who opened the scoring for Cosmin Olaroiu's all-conquering side.
The Ghana captain was felled in the area by Haidar Alo Ali and stepped up himself to strike home a cool and composed penalty.
Thereafter, both sides toiled in the heat and humidity, but Ahli made their dominance tell with a late flurry.
Al Hammadi netted a rare header from Abdul Aziz Hailkal's right-wing cross, while Khalil grabbed the first of his two goals with a spectacular, curling free-kick, which deflected into the net off the head of Australian defender Zach Anderson.
Almost immediately from the restart, Khalil scored his second goal, starting and finishing a one-two with Rodrigo Lima with an accomplished low strike.
In Saturday's evening match, Al Jazira were due to host Al Wasl at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium.
Meanwhile, in Friday's late match, Al Shabab came from a goal down to beat Sharjah 2-1 at home.
A first-half goal from Jamal Maroof had given the visitors the lead at the Maktoum Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, but a Mohammad Marzooq header and a Henrique Luvannor penalty earned Fred Rutten's men all three points.
But it was not easy for the Hawks and Rutten, who is embarking on his debut season in the AGL after replacing Caio Junior as manager in May.
Sharjah, under new management themselves after the appointment of Giorgos Donis in July, took the lead in the 25th minute via their ex-Al Nasr striker Jamal Maroof.
He opened up his right foot to tuck a first-time finish into the far corner from Waleed Ahmed’s cross.
Unfortunately for the Emirati forward, his game came to a premature end as he was stretchered off five minutes before half time, to be replaced by Yousuf Saeed.
The hosts had to weather early second-half pressure from the visitors, for whom their new Venezuelan Gelmin Rivas was especially prominent.
But by the 68th minute, Al Shabab had found their equaliser after Tomas De Vincenti took a short corner exchange with Luvannor, and the Italian summer signing curled a cross into the area for captain Marzooq to head in.
And with seven minutes left, Luvannor slotted home from the spot after being tripped in the area by Abdulla Ghanem.