Dubai: Shabab Al Ahli Dubai will take nothing for granted despite heading into the second half of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) with a healthy eight-point cushion against the challengers.
The Dubai team banked on a brace from national team striker Ahmed Khalil to secure a hard-fought 3-2 win against defending champions Sharjah late on Friday to open up an eight-point lead at the top of the 14-team standings. Joining Sharjah are record 13-time champions Al Ain and Al Jazira with an identical 24 points, while Al Dhafrah and Al Nasr are in fifth and sixth with 23 points apiece after 13 matches of the first leg of the AGL.
Reduced to 10 men in the 76th minute after Mohammad Abdul Basit’s red card, Sharjah could not cope with the home team’s pressure after Federico Cartabia had given them the lead just before half-time.
Sharjah fought back with Cape Verde’s Ryan Mendes scoring in the 52nd and 63rd minutes to take the lead, only to see Khalil undo the damage and slot his two penalties in the 80th and 86th minutes, respectively, for maximum points for the team from Al Ghusais.
“It was sheer bad luck that we conceded a penalty after the red card but the team played well and showed great character despite the loss,” Sharjah coach Abdul Aziz Al Anbari told media later.
“Shabab Al Ahli is perhaps the best team in the league this season, and tonight we went down against the best. The points difference is big, but there are many more matches remaining. We are only at the halfway stage. There is still a long time remaining for the league,” he added.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena too refrained from looking too much at the points table. “This is a competition of two parts and the champion will be known only at the end of the 26 matches and not at the halfway stage,” he cautioned.
“The eight-point lead means very little at this moment. If at all, we need to learn from the mistakes we have made so that our character as a team can be seen on and off the pitch against all teams in the future. Today was special because we showed a strong character especially after we lost the Arabian Gulf Cup final [against Al Nasr] last week. There is still a second round remaining and we know there will be many more tough matches like these. Our next thought is on our next match against Hatta [on January 29],” Arruabarrena insisted.
Results (Round 13)
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai 3 Sharjah 2
Al Dhafrah 3 Fujairah 1
Al Wahda 2 Hatta 0
Played on Thursday:
Al Wasl 2 Kalba 0
Khor Fakkan 0 Al Ain 3
Ajman 1 Al Jazira 1
Al Nasr 0 Bani Yas 1