Fight for possession during the Arabian Gulf Cup match between Al Ain and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai. Image Credit: Courtesy: AGC

Dubai: Al Nasr and the three Abu Dhabi clubs — Al Jazira, Al Wahda and Bani Yas — appeared among the early contenders for top honours in a long, gruelling local football season that kicked off this weekend with the Arabian Gulf Cup.

Al Nasr were perhaps the most impressive with their 3-0 win over visitors Kalba — former Spain and Manchester City’s Alvaro Negredo coming up with a beauty of a goal — while Al Jazira and Al Wahda asserted their rights with full points at the end of the opening round of the club tournament.

Al Wahda overcame second-half jitters to come up with a 3-1 home win over traditional opponents Fujairah after Al Jazira had registered a win by an identical margin over newly-promoted Khor Fakkan. Earlier on Thursday, Bani Yas put it past Sharjah 2-0.

But by far, the opening round belonged to Al Nasr as they dominated with an impressive 3-0 sweep over Kalba. Attacking midfielder and debutant Brandley Mack-olien Kuwas opened the score in the eighth minute for Al Nasr while another new recruit, former Porto midfielder Antonio Jose Pinheiro Carvalho, added a second in the 41st minute as the home team walked off with a 2-0 half-time advantage. The goal of the week was the one Negredo scored, instinctively curling in with his outer left foot in the 73rd minute to all but stop any possible fightback from Kalba.

“There’s nothing to be said to anyone. Our football did the talking tonight. We played well throughout the 90 minutes and we were constantly on the lookout for goals,” Al Nasr’s Brazilian coach Caio Zanardi told the media after the match. “This is just the glimpse of football we want to play this season. Our job is to look for space, create the moves and score the goals,” he promised.

Zanardi, who ended last season with the Blues, was not overawed with the way Al Nasr took control of the match. “We know from experience that it is never easy to start the season. We knew we had to start strong. Luckily, all the hard work that we’ve put in during the pre-season has started paying off. I am not saying that we are perfect, but this is a team that will send out a strong signal to the others so that we can be among the early contenders,” he added.

The Brazilian had a word of praise for the hard work put in by his captain. “Negredo knows the league well by now. He knows his potential and what it means for him to stand up for the team,” Zanardi complimented.

“For me, it was more important to ensure the other two foreign players [Carvalho and Kuwas] get a taste of the competition here. It was their first match and both scored. This will give them both the confidence they need to believe in themselves and stand out for the team as we take one match at a time,” he smiled.

“We will take it match by match and try to gather confidence from each outing. One thing is for sure and that is our team can take on anyone and everyone. However, it is too early to predict anything as it’s only the first match.”


Al Wahda 3 Fujairah 1

Al Nasr 3 Kalba 0

Al Ain 2 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai 2