Grafite header surprises Al Ain
Al Ahli maintain their 100 per cent record and six-point lead at the top with a 1-0 victory
Al Ahli maintained their 100 per cent record and six-point lead at the top of the Arabian Gulf League with a narrow 1-0 victory over reigning champions Al Ain at Rashid Stadium late on Sunday evening.
Grafite’s first-half header proved the difference between the two sides in a game Al Ain boss Quique Sanchez Flores later admitted “wasn’t for strikers.”
It wasn’t for the purists either as this highly anticipated clash failed to flicker — never mind ignite or sparkle — for long periods.
Grafite had the first sight of goal on 12 minutes, when he met Abdelaziz Husain’s right-wing centre with a partially blocked attempt that looped up into the arms of Khalid Essa.
Flores’ men hit back just three minutes later with Ahmed Al Shamisi crossing in for Ismail Ahmed, whose firm header temporarily troubled a taken aback Saif Yousif. The match then meandered along without much of note to mention until Ahli broke the deadlock just after the half hour mark.
Hugo Viana swung in a right-sided corner and Grafite rose seemingly unmarked to nod a downward header into the far corner of Essa’s net.
Al Ain’s players appealed vociferously for a foul in the build-up and the Red Knights’ Brazilian captain did appear to shove over his marker, but the goal stood.
That strike was greeted by chants of ‘Cosmin! Cosmin! Cosmin!’ as Ahli’s supporters taunted their Al Ain counterparts about their former manager.
Flores — who was also facing his former club in Ahli — duly tried to rouse his troops from the visitors’ dugout.
Omar Abdulrahman responded by bringing down Majed Hassan for a foul that he contested staunchly with referee Mohamed Al Zarouni.
A subsequent yellow card didn’t really allay his protestations and he was lucky he had team-mates around him to shepherd him away from a further caution and a resultant red. Al Ain came more into proceedings in the second period, with Asamoah Gyan coming close to equalising on three separate occasions overall.
Amid those presentable chances at one end, Luis Jimenez was booked for diving after a tangle in the penalty box with Al Shamisi.
It seemed a credible shout for a spot-kick at the time and far more dubious calls have probably been awarded in this league in the recent past. However, Ahli didn’t need the safety of a two-goal cushion as they comfortably eased through to their seventh win from as many AGL fixtures.