Dubai: Shabab Al Ahli Dubai and Kalba secured crucial wins to draw first blood in the opening legs of the Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals.
Kalba stunned 10-man Al Nasr 2-1, while Shabab Al Ahli Dubai scored either side of half-time to register a valuable 2-0 away win at the Zabeel Stadium.
Held under the slogan ‘Hope Probe’ in conjunction with the UAE space probe entering Mars orbit on Tuesday evening, it was Kalba who impressed playing away against an Al Nasr side that have shown signs of resurgence this season.
The Tigers missed an early chance when Davide Mariani’s effort was blocked by Al Nasr defender Mohammad Ayed. But they didn’t have to wait for long for the match to turn on its head when Mohammad Fawzi was shown a straight red and Peniel Mlapa converted from the resultant penalty to give Kalba the lead and just five minutes gone.
The visitors doubled their lead in the 18th minute when Mlapa turned provider following a counter-attack that saw an unmarked Nasir Abdel Hadi tap past Al Nasr goalkeeper Ahmad Shambih.
The Blues came close to a goal, but Kalba goalkeeper Jamal Abdullah first denied an attempt from Caique Jesus and then blocked Diaa Saba’s powerful effort in the 34th minute.
The persistent pressure from the hosts eventually paid off when they were awarded a penalty after a VAR review and Toze converted to pull one back. Kalba nearly scored a third, but Shambih pulled off a fine save to deny Majid Rashid during injury time and give the Blues a palpable hope heading into the return leg in Kalba in the first week of March.
In the second semi-final played at the Zabeel Stadium, it was Igor Jesus who opened the account for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in the 36th minute when the Brazilian accepted Hamdan Al Kamali’s long ball, broke inside the box and tapped in.
The guests doubled their lead midway through the second half when a free kick landed at Mohammad Jaber’s feet and the playmaker beat his marker and slotted in to hand Shabab Al Ahli Dubai a distinct edge heading into the return leg at home, on March 2.