Al Ahli rode on twin strikes from Makhete Diop to help themselves to a 2-0 win against arch-rivals and neighbours Al Shabab to complete a hat-trick of wins in the Arabian Gulf Cup at the Al Maktoum Stadium late on Saturday.
The 28-year-old Senegalese striker who was one of the few entrants into the Al Ahli fold during January’s transfer window, cleverly turned in a pass from Brazilian provider Everton Ribeiro in the fifth minute and then secured his second in the 77th minute to give the Red Knights their second trophy of the season. Al Ahli had opened 2016-’17 with a hard-fought 2-1 win against Al Jazira in the one-off Arabian Gulf Super Cup.
Despite being down by that early goal, Al Shabab fought hard and well and should have at least managed an equalizer on a couple of occasions, but luck was evasive to them despite dominating proceedings in long gasps. And then came the second goal deep into the second half to put the match out of reach for The Hawks.
With Saturday’s win, Al Ahli becomes the only UAE club that has won this tournament on two occasions - the first in 2012 also defeating Al Shabab 5-3 on penalties after being tied 1-1 at full-time, and the second instance in 2014 with a 2-1 result against Al Jazira.
On the other hand, this was Al Shabab’s fourth appearance in a Cup final, with a lone success coming their way at the end of the 2011 season.
Both sides started cautiously with Al Ahli having a larger share of the exchanges. The Red Knights, who last won this trophy in 2014, made the pressure count as they went clear. Ribeiro, always the crafty one, found Diop to his right with a lob and the Senegalese made the goal look easy as he caught the young chasing Marwan Mohammad on the wrong foot.
Ahmad Khalil nearly doubled the advantage for the Red Knights in the 18th minute when he nudged in a cross from Abdul Aziz Haikal, but his header hit the upright and bounced back harmlessly in play.
Al Shabab came up with a close call on the opponent’s goal in the 23rd minute when Mohammad Marzouq turned well inside the box, but Majid Nasser affected a smart save from zero angle for an abortive corner.
After the Al Shabab goalkeeper had parried off a 37th minute free kick from Khalil, it was Diop’s turn to repay Ribeiro in the 43rd minute with a quick flick that saw the Brazilian power ahead and shoot, only to see Salem Abdullah bring off a smart save from his left.
Al Shabab enjoyed ascendency in the second half with their opponents content on defending and catching them on swift counters. One of these came in the 67th minute, but Diop was denied yet again by Al Shabab goalkeeper Abdullah.
Finally, Diop got his second of the night in the 77th when his slick outer flick from a seemingly off-side position entered the net.
Al Ahli def. Al Shabab 2-0
By Alaric Gomes
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