Al Ain : Al Ahli crossed the second last hurdle towards total domination in the domestic season with a hard-fought 2-1 win over Al Jazira to lift the Arabian Gulf Cup at the Hazza Bin Zayed stadium here on Saturday.
Eyeing a historic clean-sweep for the season, Al Ahli showed true grit and character as they clawed back from an Ali Makhbout penalty in the 28th minute to score two in the second half through Batista Libanio (Grafite) and Esmail Al Hammadi for their third trophy of the season.
After opening with the Super Cup last September, the Red Knights have already been assured of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) crown with three rounds still remaining.
Saturday’s win is their third trophy and a fourth for the clean-sweep awaits the Dubai club as they line up one last final in the season-ending President’s Cup against Al Ain on May 18.
Action was fast and frenetic in a meeting of the two heavy-weights. Al Jazira goalkeeper Ali Khasief was forced to save off Grafite in very second minute.
But the Abu Dhabi team maintained the tempo and Ali Makhbout should have scored in the tenth when his lob beat goalkeeper Saif Yousuf, but Basheer Saeed made a superb goal-line save.
Al Jazira deservingly took the lead in the 28th minute when referee Sultan Al Marzouqi pointed to the spot after Walid Abbas had brought Makhbout down inside the area. The UAE striker was all calm and poise in front of a near-capacity crown when he coolly placed to the far right of Yousuf.
Makhbout nearly doubled the lead in the 37th minute but his curling shot evaded the far post by a whisker.
Al Ahli regrouped well in the second half mounting several attacks on the rival goal. First, Khasief parried away a long-range try from Hugo Viana in the 57th minute and a minute later Grafite missed his placing with only the goalkeeper at his mercy.
Al Ahli finally equalized in the 69th minute when Grafite connected a perfect cross from Viana to the far corner of the goal giving Khasief no chance.
The match-winner came in the 81st minute, thanks to a mistake fromKorean defender Hyungmin Shin whose clearance landed at the feet of Ciel who in turn advanced and relayed to Esmail Al Hammadi to toe home.
Both Al Ahli and Al Jazira went in having won the Cup on one occasion apiece – the Abu Dhabi side in 2010 and the Red Knights two years later in 2012.
In the semi-finals, Al Ahli had banked on a late strike from Jociel Ferreira da Silva (Ciel) to defeat Sharjah 1-0, while Al Jazira had got the better of Al Jazira on penalties after a 2-2 draw during regulation period.
Al Ahli x Al Jazira 2-1