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AGL Picks of the Week: Sharjah stunned by Ahmed Abunamous, Mahdi Ali suffers uncertain start

Fresh life was breathed into the 2020/21 Arabian Gulf League title race in an enthralling match-week 10.

Drama at the top began when Bani Yas substitute Ahmed Abunamous danced through the Sharjah defence on Thursday to inflict their first defeat of the season. Al Jazira then moved level courtesy of a lively 3-2 win at an Al Wasl inspired by coach Odair Hellmann’s arrival from Fluminense, while third-placed Al Nasr’s limp 2-1 defeat to the 10 men of Al Ain on Friday kept them off the pace.

Mahdi Ali, meanwhile, endured a nightmare return to Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, going down 3-2 at lowly Fujairah. Al Wahda’s winless run extended to four matches with a dreary goalless draw at sixth-placed Ittihad Kalba, Ramon Lopes’ double earned a 2-1 triumph for improving Khor Fakkan at sinking Ajman and bottom-placed Hatta remained stuck on one point after Denilson got the only goal for mid-table Al Dhafra.

Here are Sport360°’s top picks and a talking point:

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Ramon Lopes (Khor Fakkan)

An eventful contest between two struggling sides which finished with 10 men apiece was, effectively, settled within the first half hour.

Brazilian forward Lopes’ brace – aided by goalkeeper Ali Al Hosani’s flimsy attempt to repel the first – was enough to see off Ajman’s second-half revival.

That’s five goals in his last three AGL run-outs, an invaluable run of form helping to propel Caio Zanardi’s troops out of the drop zone.

GOAL OF THE WEEK

Ahmed Abunamous (Bani Yas)

This was some way to end the division’s only undefeated record.

Abunamous had been on the park for less than two minutes when he picked up possession within the centre-circle. Beguiling footwork at pace – reminiscent of Diego Maradona at World Cup 1986 – witnessed him breeze through four challenges, before sending UAE goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani the wrong way with a precise low finish.

An unforgettable moment.

COACH OF THE WEEK

Pedro Emanuel (Al Ain)

Emanuel needed more than a result this weekend – he also needed a performance.

Mercifully for the ex-Porto defender, his players delivered versus Nasr. The UAE’s most-decorated club had slid into a listless three-match winless run, producing widespread disquiet.

Fears about another troubling day grew sonorous when UAE wide man Bandar Al Ahbabi was dismissed for a high challenge in just the 23rd minute. Fast forward to the final whistle and an enlivening win against expected title challengers had been secured, even with Japan international Tsukasa Shiotani registering an own goal.

Crisis? What crisis.

TALKING POINT

For a man of such achievements, Ali still has plenty to prove

Mahdi Ali is an undisputed legend of UAE football.

His achievements with various national sides – paternal nurturing of the ‘Golden Generation’, entry to the London 2012 Olympics, Gulf Cup 2013 victory and third place at the 2015 Asian Cup – stand the test of time. His record at club level, however, is less glorious.

Is he, truly, the best candidate to transform a rich Shabab Al Ahli squad from inexplicable also-rans to expected title contenders? Early concerns about his suitability will only have grown after Friday’s chastening return at Fujairah.

Ali answered the merged outfit’s previous emergency call – he represented Al Ahli as a player from 1983-98 – in December 2017 when Cosmin Olaroiu’s iconic reign unravelled, exiting after a forgettable fifth-placed finish and middling win percentage of 42.1. This was a marginal decline from his opening stint’s win percentage of 50, recorded from November 2009-February 2010.

No other club sides have been led by the 55-year-old. He’s lifted zero trophies in all three Ahli stints.

It is not all negative. Shabab Al Ahli at Fujairah recorded 69-per-cent possession and made more than three times their hosts’ attempts (21/6).

Ali cannot be blamed for wild mistakes headlined by veteran Walid Abbas’ uncharacteristically sloppy giveaway for the first, plus centre-back partner Hamdan Al Kamali’s erratic culpability for the two following strikes.

All eyes will be on Saturday’s visit of fourth-placed Bani Yas.

MATCH-WEEK 10 RESULTS

Thursday

Al Dhafra 1-0 Hatta

Bani Yas 1-0 Sharjah

Al Wasl 2-3 Al Jazira

Friday

Ittihad Kalba 0-0 Al Wahda

Fujairah 3-2 Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club

Al Nasr 1-2 Al Ain

Ajman 1-2 Khor Fakkan

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