Dubai: Early pacesetters Al Jazira, defending champions Al Ain and Al Wahda will be eager to carry on their strong starts when the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) hosts its second round this weekend.
Al Jazira secured an entertaining 5-4 away win against Shabab Al Ahli in the opening round held on the last day of August, while Al Wahda looked convincing in their 6-2 hammering of Kalba that eventually led to the sacking of coach Jorvan Vieira. Known to be poor travellers, Al Ain fought well for a 3-1 win against Emirates Club in Ras Al Khaimah to commence the defence of their crown.
After being down 3-1within the opening 25 minutes, Al Jazira did well to draw level by half-time. They were better organised in the second half as they took the lead only to see Shabab Al Ahli being awarded a penalty for an equaliser. However, the visitors managed full points with hard-working Khalfan Mubarak converting with a dainty free kick with just four minutes remaining in the match giving new coach Dutch Marcel Keizer enough reason to smile about the future.
“The first game of the season is always the toughest and we are glad to return with three points. We need to work on certain aspects and I am sure we can only get better with each match,” Keizer had admitted at the post-match conference.
UAE striker Ali Mabkhout’s hat-trick gave Keizer a second reason to be optimistic. “On a scale of ten, I would say we are at 5 or 6 as we are just getting started. He [Mabkhout] is a class player and his ability to find the goal is what makes him stand out,” he said.
Up next against Dibba in the early match on Friday, challengers Al Wahda will be looking for a second strong showing in the AGL following their tennis-like 6-2 opener against Kalba. They have looked strong in the attack like their neighbours, but The Clarets will still need to work on their defence and avoid leaking in any goals.
Al Wasl is the other team to watch out this season following their 3-0 win against Kalba in their opening round. But The Cheetahs will need to be at their sharpest when they take on promoted Bani Yas, while neighbours Al Nasr will be looking to fight back from their shock 0-1 loss to Ajman as they make the short trip to face Sharjah in tonight’s late match.
On Saturday, Al Jazira will look to build up on their strong start when they host Fujairah, while Al Ain will host Al Dhafra in early games. Shabab Al Ahli Dubai will travel to Ajman with the hope of giving coach Jose Luis Sierra his first points of the season.
Dibba v Al Wahda, 5.35pm
Kalba v Emirates, 5.35pm
Bani Yas v Al Wasl, 8.15pm
Sharjah v Al Nasr, 8.15pm
Al Jazira v Fujairah, 5.40pm
Al Ain v Al Dhafra, 5.35pm
Ajman v Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, 8.15pm