Dubai: Sharjah retained their position at the top of the standings while former Spain and Manchester City striker Alvaro Negredo led the Al Nasr resurgence in Round Five of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) this week.
Sharjah dropped vital points away to Hatta with a last-gasp 2-2 draw, while Al Nasr rode on Negredo’s third goal in the last two matches for a shock 1-0 home win against 10-man Shabab Al Ahli Dubai to become the biggest mover from 10th to sixth place.
Earlier on Thursday, Al Wahda fought back from a two-goal deficit to win 4-2 in Ajman after Sharjah had scored two goals in full-time injury period to rescue a point in Hatta.
Cristian Lopez Santamaria scored a brace in the 19th and 25th minute to usher Hatta towards an unlikely win at home, when the defending champions came right back during full-time injury period through Igor Coronado and Ricardo Gomes to secure a vital point and keep their position at the top of the standings.
Yet another team consolidating their place with a clinical performance was former 13-time champions Al Ain with a 7-1 hammering of Fujairah.
Leading the Al Ain assault was their 27-year-old striker from Togo, Laba Kodjo Fodoh with four goals, while Mohannad Salem, Caio Canedo and Jamal Maroof added one each after Johanathan de Conceicao had given the home the early lead.
There are two more matches left this week with Al Dhafrah hosting a struggling Al Wasl in the early game on Sunday while Al Jazira contend with Kalba in the late night encounter.
But for the moment, Sharjah retain their spot at the top with 13 points, chased down by Al Ain in second with 12 points and Sharjah Al Ahli Dubai slipping one spot into third with 10 points.
A handful of teams — Al Jazira, Ajman, Al Nasr and Al Dhafra — are all tied with seven points.
Saturday’s late match in Dubai (Al Nasr vs Shabab Al Ahli Dubai) had three key moments. The first was in the 15th minute after referee Abdullah Al Ajel cancelled out a 15th minute opener for the visitors after Henrique Luvannor’s header had found the far corner of the Al Nasr net. After soaking in considerable pressure, Al Nasr scored on the hour when Negredo’s overhead kick found an empty goal. The lively Leonardo da Silva got a red card in the 76th minute following a VAR review from the referee.
“I will not speak against the referee and the decisions he took as I may get a fine later. Instead, I will watch the game again with the team and see where we have erred, and then I will discuss with the club officials on what we can do to protect our rights,” Shabab Al Ahli Dubai coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena fumed at the post-match conference.
“The difference between the teams tonight was that Al Nasr scored one goal and we didn’t. I don’t think I can be happy with the level we showed tonight. We have to now pay attention to how we can improve,” he added.
Al Nasr coach Krunoslav Jurcic promised his team will only get better. “We had been pounded into the ground about two weeks back. Who would have dreamt that we could finish with maximum six points after two games against tough teams like Al Wahda and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai? Now suddenly we have the confidence and belief that we can do anything,” the Croatian observed.
“Tonight was a tactical war and I think the presence of our fans gave us the edge to fight for every ball out there. I think we are on the right way and we can all do this together as now is the right time to put in that extra bit of hard work,” he added.
Thursday: Ajman 2 Al Wahda 4; Hatta 2 Sharjah 2
Friday: Fujairah 1 Al Ain 7; Bani Yas 1 Khor Fakkan 1; Al Nasr 1 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai 0
Sunday’s fixtures: 6.15pm: Al Dhafrah vs Al Wasl; 9pm: Al Jazira vs Kalba