DUBAI: Al-dramatic Jazira’s win in Week 19 of the ADNOC Pro League revived their title hopes despite winning efforts from the rest of the chasing pack.

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Sharjah’s star-studded 3-2 road victory over Abu Dhabi’s Pride dampened the Emirati club’s euphoria from last week’s UAE Super Cup victory. Only these were missing from the peak’s total.

Brazilian youngster Yuri Cesar’s second-half strike kept leaders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club in control with a 2-1 victory against Ittihad Kalba; second-placed Al-Wasl breezed past second-bottom Al-Dhafra 2-0; and impressive Argentine Facundo Kruspzky headed home a third goal in six top-flight outings as fourth-placed Al-Wahda downed fallen giants Al-Nasr 1-0.

Meanwhile, holders Al-Ain cruised to a 3-0 win over Dibba Al-Fujairah. Dark horses Ajman defeated middling Baniyas 3-2; Angola’s Fabio Abreu scored twice in the second half to secure the tie. Tunisia’s Firas Ben Larbi scored twice in first-half injury time.

Here is a highlight and discussion point from the most recent events, as chosen by Arab News.

Ali Mabkhout, this week’s outstanding player (Al-Jazira)

Until about a month ago, it was unclear how much of an effect Mabkhout would have on the rest of the season.

The club legend Ayman Hussein, who joined the team over the winter, led Al-Jazira back into title contention with a second-half masterclass on Friday, despite Hussein sitting on the bench.

The 32-year-old leveled the game in the Sharjah Stadium showdown with a cool penalty in the 52nd minute, his ninth from the spot this season, and then he gave up a rebound to Morocco winger Achraf Bencharki just past the hour mark, allowing the visitors to take a 2-1 lead. With six minutes remaining, the game-winning play occurred: a selfless pass across the box found the brave Khalfan Mubarak, who calmly slid the ball home at the back stick for 3-2, sending the visiting fans into a frenzy.

Later, the Pride of Abu Dhabi would get some morale-boosting help from the imposing Iraqi striker Hussein, who came on as a substitute. After a successful 2023 Arabian Gulf Cup campaign, the winning Qatari club, Al-Markhiya, was acquired by the club. However, this position was not one of the goals of the acquisition.

The ever-present Kodjo Fo-Doh Laba of Al-Ain has scored 20 goals, while Mabkhout has only scored 17. Four assists on the way back suggests that this player is a dangerous contributor in many areas.

That Shabab Al-Ahli relies so heavily on their former Argentina U-20 winger should come as no surprise.

After three injury-plagued seasons in the United Arab Emirates, Fede Cartabia is having his most successful season to date.

On Thursday, the former Valencia and Deportivo La Coruna wide man was instrumental in a decisive and arduous victory at Kalba. The kind of performance like that is what takes home championships.

After crashing out of the 2022 AFC Champions League in the round of 16, Leonardo Jardim’s squad had to work hard to earn these three points in their domestic league.

With a 13-6 advantage in shots and a 57-43 advantage in possession, Kalba easily won the game. Motivation was essential.

In the fifth minute, the groundwork was laid when Cartabia took possession deep in his own half. However, a vast open area lay in wait.
The 30-year-defense old’s was turned into offense with a flick of the wrist and a burst of speed. Cartabia covered 60 yards in a flash, before coolly curling the ball past the onrushing Eisa Houti.

In the league, Shabab Al-Ahli now has the most goals with seven. To a small number, this will be of paramount importance.

Juan Antonio Pizlzi, this week’s Coach of the Week (Al-Wasl)
Neither an unexpected title fight nor Ali Saleh’s continued growth as a star in the United Arab Emirates are what former Saudi Arabia manager Juan Antonio Pizzi is most proud of in his time at Zabeel Stadium.

The ability to bring peace to a club that has been stereotyped as a group of brittle entertainers throughout the 21st century has been a pleasant surprise. It has never been this under control, not even when Arruabarrena’s compatriot and current UAE boss, Rodolfo Arruabarrena, was racking up third-place finishes on the trot in the middle of the previous decade.
Dhafra was easily dispatched on Friday, marking the club’s fourth consecutive league victory in rapid fashion.

Khaled Al-Senani, a former Dhafra goalkeeper with a commanding presence, Djamel Benlamri, a central defender from Algeria, Soufiane Bouftini, a central defender from Morocco and the game’s first scorer, and Geronimo Poblete, a battling defensive midfielder from Argentina, are all astute additions. Tomas Chancalay, on loan from Racing Club, scored the game-winning goal in stoppage time. This was his seventh goal in 15 league games.

Pizzi built his reputation on the back of his ability to introduce passing football to a pragmatic Saudi Arabia team, which ultimately failed to impress at the 2018 World Cup and the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Considering that, he seemed like a good match for Al-Wasl.

What the ex-Barcelona forward has accomplished in his first season is remarkable and unexpected.

There is finally some fruit for Marcel Keizer’s patience.
Despite the ups and downs of the season, Al-Jazira has never wavered in their support of Marcel Keizer.

The delight of last Friday’s 3-2 victory at Sharjah is tempered by the disappointment of the 3-2 loss to Al-Ain a month ago.

It’s possible that if they had made a leadership switch in the middle of the season, they would have gotten a fresh spark to drive their campaign. This could have caused additional cracks to form.

The team is currently in sixth place, six points behind league leaders Shabab Al-Ahli. Even though they face a beaten-up Sharjah on Tuesday in the quarterfinals, a run at the President’s Cup is still possible.

Keizer’s vision, honed at Ajax, is perfectly in tune with Jazira’s; theirs is a complementary partnership that has won silverware before and may do so again.