Saudi Arabia name 26-man squad for World Cup training camp in Spain
Summer additions of superstars Miralem Pjanic and Andriy Yarmolenko opened their ADNOC Pro League accounts, while four-goal Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba bolstered his elite striking credentials in an electric Matchweek 2.
All eyes were on runner-up Sharjah and their aforementioned new signing from Barcelona, who did not disappoint in a 3-0 win over Baniyas.
Laba and Yarmolenko proved vital in the division’s widest margin of victory since March 2018, helping champions Al Ain dismantle 10-man Al Dhafra 7-0.
Ali Mabkhout scored a 15th top-fight hat-trick – and missed a penalty – in Al Jazira’s eventful 4-2 victory at Khor Fakkan. Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club youngsters helped them battle to win 2-1 at Dibba Al Fujairah, and Leandro Spadacio’s clean finish saw dark horses Al-Ittihad Kalba stun Carlos Carvalhal’s Al Wahda 1 -0.
Gilberto converted either side of the interval in Al Wasl’s 2-1 win over promoted Al Bataeh, and former Bayern Munich midfielder Thorsten Fink opened his Al Nasr account with a 2 win -0 against Ajman.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the weekend’s action:
Player of the week: Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba (Al Ain)
A reminder about football magpie syndrome was delivered emphatically this weekend at the Hazza bin Zayed stadium.
Understandable excitement surrounded Pjanic, teammate Paco Alcacer and Ukrainian maestro Yarmolenko. This could escalate ahead of the October 4 transfer deadline, with gossip over the weekend centering on the ex-Brazilian and Sharjah’s potential signing of Chelsea star Oscar.
Laba’s quartet of strikes in the Garden City, however, counterbalanced this relentless focus on novelty.
The Togolese striker signed an unprecedented free transfer from Morocco’s RS Berhane in July 2019. His achievements since have defied expectations and confirmed that a big name is not the only guarantee of success in Middle Eastern football .
Court intrigue, however, followed muted celebrations.
The 30-year-old’s third ‘super hat-trick’ in the ADNOC Pro League took him to 62 goals in 65 outings. It also proved that last season’s best marksman and Ballon d’Or winner – for best foreigner – was unaffected by last week’s late penalty miss in the 1- 1 in Ajman.
Pjanic, Alcacer and Yarmolenko, for all their prestige, still have a long way to go if they are to match Laba’s seismic impact.
Goal of the week: Miralem Pjanic (Sharjah)
A kick loaded with symbolism provided the lasting legacy of this match week.
Top quality goals were talked about in the stadiums of the UAE in relation to Pjanic’s penalty: Kalba’s lively breakaway at Al Wahda, a stunning interaction between Ahmed Barman, Yarmolenko and Soufiane Rahimi for Laba’s third goal, plus Yuri Cesar’s rocket to Dibba for Shabab Al-Ahli.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina international’s effort against Baniyas from 12 yards was more prosaic. Still, he showed a searing direction of travel for the 2018-19 title winners, who look set on achieving domestic dominance and AFC Champions League glory.
Pjanic has fired at the fingertips of Fahad Al-Dhanhani around 72 hours after his free transfer from Barca caught the world’s attention. It was the 32-year-old’s first goal since 2019.
Sharjah put on a show in the game’s opening stanza, and Pjanic was at the center of a dominating display where UAE prospect Majed Rashid and Brazilian youngster Luanzinho looked unstoppable.
The eldest statesman, meanwhile, recorded 91% passing accuracy and prevailed in four duels.
The foundations are built for future glory.
Coach of the week: Leonardo Jardim (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)
Jardim seemed an unlikely contender for that accolade after a painful first hour of Friday’s first contest at Dibba’s new 100 million dirham ($27.2 million) home.
The impressive header from Montenegro defensive midfielder Aleksandar Scekic at half-time was only reward for Zoran Popovic’s counter-attacking troops, who had got the better of their visitors’ host of stars.
Many doubts were, at that time, cast on the former Monaco and Al Hilal tactician, amplified by Shabab Al-Ahli’s previous 2-0 loss to Sharjah.
Jardim’s young replacements would, however, ignite the Portuguese’s reign.
Ex-Flamengo youngster Cesar took 10 minutes in the second half to equalize from 30 yards out. A deft no-look pass for fellow rookie Cheickna Doumbia sealed a decisive victory late in the game.
We can blame Jardim for a conservative starting team, but his interventions were excellent and effective. It was the best crisis management.
Amoory’s flickers of life are fuel for football romantics
Some sites will make even the most seasoned adepts of the ADNOC Pro League dream.
A burgeoning Omar Abdulrahman will do just that.
The Al Wasl faithful were treated to the 30-year-old’s throwback in Friday’s 2-1 triumph at Bataeh. Quick feet and a sharp brain were key, from central midfield in Juan Antonio Pizzi’s exuberant 4-3-3 formation, to Gilberto’s clincher.
In this state of mind, there is no one like him.
UAE football romantics – and, in particular, national team coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena – long for his permanent return to form. But will we really see a late-career resurgence?
Al-Wasl is Amoory’s fourth club since a painful exit from Al Ain in 2018. Serious injuries and off-field treatment, rather than magical feats, have defined the lost years since.
Stellar cameos throughout Shabab Al-Ahli’s AFC Champions League group stage exploits in April are glorious exceptions to the daunting norm.
But suitable foils have been discovered at the Zabeel Stadium in Brazilian striker Gilberto, fellow UAE colleague Fabio De Lima, abundant talent Ali Saleh and former Argentina Under-20 player Tomas Chancalay.
A litmus test of Amoory’s return will be the Bur Dubai derby on October 1.