Al Jazira 1:5 Al Ain – Match Report
By Dmytro Rebrov
"Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium" by Nico Quatro is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi hosted an intriguing matchup between current UAE Pro League title holders, Al Jazira and table topping and currently unbeaten Al Ain.
Al Ain’s revival season, following a disappointing sixth place finish in the 2020/21 campaign, faced its toughest challenge yet. The visitors could have sent out a strong message regarding their title winning ambitions with a positive result away at the home of the current champions.
Al Jazira entered the fixture having recently passed the landmark of a full 12 months since they last suffered a home defeat. Since their loss to Al Sharjah (7 November 2020), they have been unbeaten for 16 competitive games at the Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium. After Milos Kosanovic put the hosts ahead following an end-to-end start after 12 minutes, it seemed as if that impressive run had a strong chance of being extended.
Following that precise Kosanovic header from Abdullah Ramadan’s corner, it was Al Ain who began to put the hosts on the back foot. A controversial incident occurred when Cristian Guanca was brought down in the box by the aforementioned Ramadan on the 18 minute mark. Although replays did show slight knee-to-knee contact instigated by Ramadan, Daniele Doveri’s decision to book Guanca for simulation was not overturned and Al Ain’s hopes of a spot kick being awarded faded.
However, Guanca did not have to wait long to get his redemption. Just a few minutes later Soufiane Rahimi’s pass, intended for striker Kodjo Laba, ended up being too heavy for him to connect with. The ball rolled through for Guanca to coolly slot away with a low, first-time finish past stand-in Al Jazira keeper – Abdullrahman Al Ameri. Even though the goal was originally disallowed for an offside, VAR did interfere this time, in Guanca’s favour.
On the half hour mark, Guanca was yet again involved in the game. The Argentine’s through ball for Laba allowed for the striker to sneak a touch on the ball, just before he was brought down by Al Ameri in the host’s 18 yard box. The Togolese man swiftly proceeded to take his league goal tally into double figures for this season, placing his penalty just to the left of the middle of the goal, sending Al Ameri the other way.
As such, Al Ain’s response to going behind for the first time this season was as emphatic as you would expect from a team showing real championship ambition and quality. They went on to round off a clinical first half performance by extending their lead moments before half-time. Ahmed Barman’s long ball to Rahimi on the left wing set him off to score an impressive solo goal, featuring a lovely bit of skill with his scoop to beat Khalifa Al Hammadi in the box. He then snuck the ball in at the near post with a strike on his weaker, left foot.
A response from the champions would have been expected following the half-time interval. Instead, last round’s red card to first choice goalkeeper Ali Al Hosani came back to haunt the hosts, as Al Ameri suffered a horrible moment with his mistake which allowed Laba to get his second goal of the game. The keeper slid to get to Rahimi’s through ball to Laba, getting there ahead of the Al Ain striker. However, he inexplicably let the ball slip through his hands under no pressure, leaving Laba to not believe his luck as he could tap the ball into an empty net.
Just a few minutes later Al Jazira’s implosion was complete. Mohamed Al Attas picked up a second yellow card for his cynical foul on Al Ain’s marauding left back, Erik. An appalling ten minute spell to start the second half, largely uncharacteristic of the current title holders.
“The game ended after the red card” stated Al Ain manager, Serhiy Rebrov after the game. A few chances fell to Al Jazira’s Ali Mabkhout and the visitor’s Rahimi and Laba – who was hungry for his hat-trick, as the visitors could comfortably stroll through the majority of the second half.
Laba did manage to earn his hat trick, with a tap in in added time, sealing the final score line – 1:5. Following a well worked corner routine, assisted by substitute Jonathan Santos, Laba was left with a comfortable first time finish to round off a memorable night for the visitors. The striker has now notched up twelve goals in his nine league starts this season.
With this result, Al Ain extend their lead to third placed Al Ahli & Al Nasr to a sizeable seven points. It now seems as if their fierce rivals, Al Wahda, will be their main competition for the title. The pair now remain as the only unbeaten teams so far this season.
Al Jazira and Al Ain will now face a break from competitive action, along with the rest of the teams in the UAE Pro League, with the UAE national team participating in the FIFA Arab Cup from the 30 November.
The next round of UAE Pro League fixtures is scheduled for Christmas Day (25 December). Al Ain will look to continue their blistering league form, as they host fellow title challengers Al Nasr. Al Jazira will face Khorfakkan, who currently sit a single place and point below them in the league table.
Match Stats (data courtesy of wyscout):
Al Jazira: Al Ameri (2), Al Attas (3), Al Hammadi (4), Kosanovic (5), Rashid (4), Serero (5), Ramadan (6), Diaby (5), de Oliveira (6), Victor (5), Mabkhout (5). Subs: Traore (5), Rabii (5), Al Ameri (NA), Al Zaabi (NA), Ayman (NA).
Al Ain: Eisa (6), Bandar (7), Meriah (7), Autonne (7), Erik (8), Nader (6), Barman (7), Alblooshi (6), Guanca (9), Rahimi (9), Laba (10). Subs: Al Shikali (6), Al Shamsi (NA), Juma (NA), Santos (NA).
Man of the Match: Kodjo Laba