Dubai: Bandar Al Ahbabi played the perfect role of a substitute while scoring with a minute of his entry to help Al Ain to a well-contested 2-1 win over Al Wasl in second week action of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL), late on Thursday.
Egged on by a houseful crowd at the Cheetahs’ home ground in Al Zabeel, the diminutive winger showed who is the the Boss as he scored one and then set up a second to snatch full points for the visitors.
Al Wasl had taken the lead in the 15th minute when new recruit Welliton Soares – signed from defending champions Sharjah at the start of the season – was handy to guide home a loose ball that had spilled from goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. But their joy lasted just a few minutes as Al Ain levelled in the 18th minute after Japanese winger Tsukasa Shiotani’s stiff grounder found the far corner of Mohammad Al Bairaq’s net.
Both teams then tried to take the lead, but the humid conditions and a lack of imagination from both sides saw them go in for the break with honours even at 1-1.
It was the second half, and particularly after the induction of Al Ahbabi on the hour mark that saw the game change by a few notches. Given his role on the right flank, the UAE national team player watched his pin-point shot from well outside the area find the top-most corner of the Al Wasl goal in the 61st minute.
Eight minutes later, Al Ahbabi turned provider when his exact dainty chip through the heart of the Cheetahs’ defence landed at the feet of an onrushing Kodjo Laba. Recruited from Togo to assist in their continental campaign at the AFC Champions League, the 27-year-old’s first-time volley was so sweetly-timed that it gave the Al Wasl goalkeeper no chance at all.
Earlier in the day, Sharjah kept up their fine start for the season for a title defence with a smooth 3-1 win over Kalba, while Bani Yas settled for their second successive draw, this time with a 1-1 away result against Al Dhafrah.
The late night result saw Al Ain match Sharjah’s perfect record of two wins for six points apiece at the top of the standings. But that may well change on Friday with last year’s runners-up Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in action at home against visiting Fujairah – surprise winners last week against Al Wahda.
Al Wasl 1 Al Ain 3
Kalba 1 Sharjah 3
Al Dhafrah 1 Bani Yas 1