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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - A torrent of goals and drama that featured a shock for Frank de Boer’s high-flying Al-Jazira, plus faultless five-star shows from Al-Wasl and Sharjah, followed ADNOC Pro League’s restart after the international break.
Friday’s matchweek six resumption began with a bang. Nicolas Gimenez and unstoppable UAE forward Fabio De Lima put pointless promoted hosts Hatta to the sword during Al-Wasl’s 5-0 thrashing, while 10-man holders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club were pegged back to 3-3 from a 3-1 lead by an Al-Nasr, fueled by Italy forward Manolo Gabbiadini.
Malian youngster Sekou Gassama conjured a sinuous solo strike in Al-Bataeh’s 1-1 draw aganst second-bottom Ajman and Al-Wahda snapped a three-match losing streak in all competitions courtesy of a 2-1 triumph versus Ittihad Kalba.
Shahin Surour was in decisive form on Saturday against boyhood club Al-Jazira when struggling Khor Fakkan stunned their vaunted visitors 4-2 and Sharjah recorded five different scorers in a 5-0 dismantling of Baniyas. The 2021/22 champions Al-Ain returned to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Emirates Club that contained a 10th-minute red card for Bandar Al-Ahbabi, plus Spain icon Andres Iniesta both converting and missing penalty kicks for the opposition.
Here are the top picks and a talking point from the latest action.
Player of the week: Nicolas Gimenez (Al-Wasl)
A standout performance, for player and club.
Gimenez at Hatta became the first ADNOC Pro League star rewarded by statisticians SofaScore with a perfect 10-rated display. This was earned via two close-range finishes and a laser-guided assist for De Lima’s 89th-minute second.
Al-Wasl had lost momentum prior to this month’s latest stoppage, drawing successive matches versus relegation-threatened Khor Fakkan and Ajman to implode their 100 percent start in frustrating fashion. Signs of life, however, came in the 3-2 victory versus Shabab Al-Ahli in an ADIB Cup quarterfinal, first leg on Oct. 20.
Coveted summer recruit Gimenez — a free agent after three bountiful campaigns at Baniyas — helped himself to two assists on that night and this form was continued in the top flight.
Sharp instincts got him into the penalty box for a pair of first-half tap-ins, representing the playmaker’s opening league goals for his new employers. The best was to come at the death, a fourth ADNOC Pro League assist of the season — to top the individual chart — coming with an incisive, low through-ball from distance perfectly targeted between full-back and centre-back.
Another dimension has been added to second-placed Al-Wasl’s attack by the 27-year-old, who is adept advancing the ball via dribbling or passing. Combinations between himself, De Lima, Switzerland forward Haris Seferovic and “golden boy” Ali Saleh strike fear into every defence in the country.
Recent naturalization for the Argentina-born creator means these skills could be deployed on the international stage with the UAE in the coming years. An exciting prospect.
Goal of the week: Sekou Gassama (Al-Bataeh)
Sometimes, you see a goal which looks like it has been taken straight from a computer game rather than real life.
Malian midfielder Gassama produced such an enlivening highlight in Friday’s 1-1 stalemate with 13th-placed Ajman.
A simple recycling of possession seemed appropriate wide on the right and with four Ajman defenders in close proximity. The 22-year-old had a different, more vivid, picture in his mind.
Gassama’s feint took him past left-back Gianluca Muniz. A breathtaking burst of pace then followed to open up a channel between three Ajman opponents, before another drop of the shoulder dumbfounded another set of markers.
A thunderous low shot would, finally, go in via a deflection on the line — and no one could argue the exhibition of skill and drive had not earned a stroke of luck.
This singular intervention came amid a promising second top-flight campaign for the club only founded in 2012. With ex-Romania boss Mirel Radoi in charge, overseeing outstanding prospects such as Gassama, the future seems bright for Bataeh.
Coach of the week: Gerard Zaragoza (Khor Fakkan)
What a way to sign off from stand-in Gerard Zaragoza, if this proves to be a final match at the helm.
The ex-Shabab Al-Ahli boss was promoted to Khor Fakkan’s top job from assistant last month, upon Abdulaziz Al-Anbari’s exit.
But the club’s top-flight winless run extended to four matches under him. This led to reports via Egypt’s Al-Shorouk newspaper that experienced ex-Ajman supremo Ayman El-Ramady had turned down the permanent post, and a follow-up from local daily Emaratalyoum detailed an imminent arrival for recently departed Al-Ahli Doha tactician Nebojsa Jovovic.
Zaragoza, if true, can step back with head held high. The Spaniard’s now-ninth-placed troops earned 3-0 and 4-1 advantages versus a Jazira outfit stacked with domestic and international talent.
They ceded 73 percent possession in an eventual 4-2 triumph, but were inspired by ex-Jazira starlet Surour during this memorable match.
Is the real Sharjah now standing up?
An ominous performance and result was seen at Sharjah Stadium.
The five-goal unravelling of 11th-placed Baniyas saw Sharjah’s constituent parts move in unison. This comes amid the context of 2022/23’s unprecedented four-goal trophy haul, but a dispiriting and dumbfounding seventh-placed ADNOC Pro League finish.
Fast forward to the present and we see Tunisia magician Firas Ben Larbi — a summer purchase from Ajman — buzzing about in a free role afforded by a loose 4-4-2 formation next to timeless UAE forward Sebastian Tagliabue. Both got on the scoresheet, along with another addition in Al-Hilal’s Moussa Marega.
Sharjah now sit just three points off Al-Ain, while first place is theirs at the halfway point of AFC Champions League’s Group B.
Trophy magnet Cosmin Olaroiu appears to have artfully, and expansively, recalibrated. The question now is whether Asia’s grandest club trophies have moved within range.
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