Green Falcons begin fourth and final phase of preparations for Qatar 2022

Green Falcons begin fourth and final phase of preparations for Qatar 2022
Green Falcons begin fourth and final phase of preparations for Qatar 2022

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - UAE Pro League review: Al-Wahda down Al-Jazira to lead table going into World Cup break

RIYADH: Soufiane Rahimi salvaged a late draw for champions Al-Ain in their epic box-office clash with star-studded Sharjah, and unflappable Al-Wahda striker Joao Pedro gained Abu Dhabi derby bragging rights at Al-Jazira in an engrossing match-week 10 of ADNOC Pro League.

Favourites Sharjah looked poised for an important triumph when Spain hitman Paco Alcacer doubled their lead on 77 minutes, only for Rahimi to net twice in the final three minutes of normal time to claim a 2-2 draw.

Meanwhile in the capital, a defensive lapse from full-back Salim Rashid was stylishly dispatched by Pedro to earn a slender 1-0 triumph for Al-Wahda.

The result meant the Clarets kept pace at the summit with Leonardo Jardim’s rampant Shabab Al-Ahli Club who lead the table after handing new Al-Nasr head coach Goran Tomic a chastening 3-0 thumping on debut.

Dark-horses Al-Wasl sit one point back headed into the five-week World Cup 2022 break after UAE forward Fabio De Lima’s excellent double secured the 10 men a 3-1 win at mid-table Baniyas.

Joao Novais’ last-gasp penalty saw Al-Bataeh edge bottom-placed Dibba Al-Fujairah 1-0 in the battle of promoted sides, Tunisia playmaker Firas Ben Larbi made it 1-0 in the 94th minute as Ajman downed Ittihad Kalba, and Aylton Boa Morte’s 90th-minute effort ensured a wild 4-3 victory when Khor Fakkan welcomed struggling Al-Dhafra.

Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.

Player of the week — Soufiane Rahimi (Al-Ain)

A decisive end to a disappointing week for Rahimi.

The 26-year-old parlayed upset about, surprisingly, failing to make Morocco’s World Cup 2022 roster, into his late salvo at Sharjah which maintains champions Al-Ain’s ambitions of playing a meaningful role in this term’s title race.

Ramifications of defeat would have been hard to countenance for under-pressure manager Serhiy Rebrov.

Al-Ain dominated possession (61 percent) and attempts (18/11) at Sharjah Stadium, yet twice fell victim to counter-punching hosts. A season which promised so much with the summer capture of Ukraine maestro Andriy Yarmolenko appeared certain to descend into discord, with what would have been their fourth loss from 10 outings.

Both fate and desire would combine to avoid the situation.

Rahimi was gifted mercy by officials in the 17th minute when his late, one-footed foul on sliding Guinean youngster Ousmane Camara – who produced a fine goal and visionary assist – was deemed worthy of just a caution. Others would not have been so generous.

The forgiving call laid the foundations for a rousing comeback. Rahimi tapped in from a scrambled corner on 87 minutes to inject belief and finished ruthlessly soon after.

Concessions from the 70-minute mark have now cost fourth-placed Sharjah vital points in defeats to Al-Wasl and Al-Wahda, plus the stalemate versus Al-Ain. A problem that trophy-hoarding boss Cosmin Olaroiu must solve in the top-flight sojourn.

The World Cup is, most probably, gone for Rahimi, but hope about an influential part in another UAE Pro League charge remains.

Goal of the week — Joao Pedro (Al-Wahda)

Khalifa Al-Hammadi’s body language spoke volumes.

The UAE and Jazira defender held his head in his hands when he witnessed team-mate Salim Rashid’s under-hit back pass fall to the prolific Pedro 25 yards from goal.

There was still much to do in this raucous derby between neighbours separated by only 3 kilometers, but Al-Hammadi had no doubts about what was to come.

Pedro – built like a heavyweight boxer but blessed with a ballet dancer’s elegance – charged at Ali Khaseif. The finish which followed was majestic.

Rather than blast past the UAE No. 1 or even pick his spot, a scooped chip would magically

. Calmness personified, in a heated atmosphere.

That is now eight goals in 10 league games for the unstoppable Pedro, plus a flawless 18 points from the returning Manolo Jimenez’s first six league games back in charge.

Coach of the week — Juan Antonio Pizzi (Al-Wasl)

If Al-Wasl sustain their title-race spot for the first time since now UAE boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s reign, this day will be key.

Baniyas battled hard in an opening period from which Palmeiras loanee Rafael Elias instantly levelled Argentina youth international Tomas Chancalay’s 10th-minute breakthrough. But Al-Wasl would go in ahead at the interval after De Lima’s emphatic half volley from a corner.

Valuable points then looked certain to drain away for the visitors once half-time substitute Mohammed Jaber – a veteran of more than 100 appearances for the hosts across two spells – was sent off soon after coming on.

But Pizzi’s reaction was perfect. Fluidity in attack was maintained through energetic winger Gabrielzinho’s introduction rather than static striker Gilberto, plus battler Hassan Ibrahim pragmatically coming on for playmaker Omar Abdulrahman.

De Lima’s magnificent header would soon seal the three points and maintain the ex-Saudi Arabia coach’s encouraging start.

A pause for thought

Just when this rejuvenated ADNOC Pro League was coming to the boil, a break in play.

Unlike much of Europe, lengthy mid-season stoppages are no strangers to a competition which often halts for Gulf Cups and Asian Cups. Minus the ADIB Cup’s first-round, second legs, no competitive action will take place until Dec. 19.

It will be intriguing to see what unfolds in this quiet period.

On-song Al-Wahda and Shabab Al-Ahi will bemoan an enforced checking of momentum. At the other end of the table, Gregory Dufrennes at Dibba, Aleksandar Veselinovic at Al-Dhafra and Tomic at Al-Nasr should embrace invaluable training-pitch time.

New-boys Al-Bataeh must procure a permanent manager.

Stocktaking will occur at the likes of Sharjah (eight points from the 18 available), Al-Jazira (eight points from the last 21) and Baniyas (eight points from the last 27), while eyes across the league move toward an impending winter transfer window.

There may be no top-flight games for more than a month, but the action never truly stops.

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