UAE Pro League review: Al-Wasl storm to the top of the table after 3-1 win over Al-Ain
DUBAI: A sold-out crowd saw Al-Wasl fire themselves firmly into ADNOC Pro League’s title race in an epic “UAE Classico” with Al-Ain, while promoted Hatta gained their first points of the season at the expense of Andres Iniesta’s sinking Emirates Club in an enthralling matchweek seven.
Thursday’s heavyweight offering saw an unfortunate, 91st-minute deflection from full-back Abdullah Idrees loop into his own net to salvage a 1-1 draw for Sharjah at Frank de Boer’s Al-Jazira.
An electric atmosphere was, then, present when UAE forwards Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo — against his former employers — propelled Wasl to top spot with a 3-1 victory against Alfred Schreuder’s Al-Ain.
Mirel Radoi’s Al-Bataeh downed in-form Al-Nasr 2-0 to remain seventh, a landmark trio of own goals featured when Hatta defeated fellow promoted outfit Emirates 4-2, and Uzbekistan midfielder Azizjon Ganiev starred when champions Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club beat Ittihad Kalba 3-1 to join Wasl on a pace-setting 17 points.
Suhail Al-Noubi’s 72nd-minute effort caused a 1-0 defeat for debutant Khor Fakkan tactician Nebojsa Jovovic at Baniyas, and Argentine starlet Facundo Kruspzky earned a 1-0 triumph for recovering Al-Wahda versus now bottom Ajman.
Here are Arab News’ top picks and a talking point from the latest action.
Player of the week: Fabio De Lima (Al-Wasl)
A fitting stage for a performer of De Lima’s limitless abilities.
The 30-year-old’s place among Wasl’s legends, such as lionized World Cup 1990 star Fahad Khamees who helped earn domestic domination in the 1980s and 1990s, has long been his. Another estimable display in the fevered clash against great rivals Al-Ain has, though, further added to the Brazil-born attacker’s standing.
Goal 153 from 200 ADNOC Pro League run-outs — just 22 behind Khamees’ tally — was typically delicious. A pass from exceptional summer recruit Nicolas Gimenez, recently naturalized by the UAE, was forcefully swept into the top corner by a dynamite left boot to make it 1-0 at a raucous Zabeel.
De Lima was then robbed of an assist by a deflected cross for the second, his short-corner routine with enforcer Geronimo Poblete being ended by Moroccan center-back Soufiane Bouftini’s 53rd-minute header.
The forward’s five goals put him equal second in the scoring charts and is one more than new teammate Haris Seferovic, a seasoned international for Switzerland with 93 caps and five selections for major tournaments.
Next summer, De Lima reaches 10 years in Wasl colors. Near misses for trophies were conjured under Rodolfo Arruabarrena at the previous decade’s midway point, but largely he has been the sole shining light amid a dysfunctional squad.
This thoroughly merited victory shows that something different, more tangible, is being built by October’s best coach winner Milos Milojevic. Damage from successive draws versus lowly Khor Fakkan and Ajman has been recompensed.
The 41-year-old claimed last season’s Serbian SuperLiga and Serbian Cup double at Red Star Belgrade. It is early days, but similar success may be recorded in Dubai.
If so, De Lima will continue to be Wasl’s beating heart, recommencing with the restart on Nov. 25 at sixth-placed Jazira after the international break.
Goal of the week: Azizjon Ganiev (Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai Club)
Ganiev has been an unheralded cog since his recruitment in 2020 from FC Nasaf.
Now in his mid-20s and a regular feature in Srecko Katanec’s improving Uzbekistan, another dimension to the central midfielder’s game is emerging.
This decisive ability was on show during Friday’s hard-fought win at Kalba.
An assist for Mateusao set Shabab Al-Ahli on course for a fourth away victory in five ADNOC Pro League outings. Even better would follow before the hour mark.
From fully 35 yards out, Ganiev’s forceful free-kick flew past helpless home goalkeeper Eisa Houti. His cheeky smile and the joyous celebrations of teammates followed, and he is adding fresh elements to his skill set.
Only two teammates have notched more top-flight minutes this season than him (486). Plus, worries about influential ex-Crystal Palace and Serbia midfielder Luka Milivojevic being unavailable at Kalba were proved to be unfounded.
Ganiev can take his exemplary performance into this month’s opening World Cup 2026 qualifiers versus Turkmenistan and Iran, before resuming domestically against Al-Ain.
Coach of the week: Fabio Viviani (Hatta)
How Hatta waited for this moment.
Last term’s First Division League Champions stumbled into their opening top-flight campaign since relegation in 2020-21, first under Zeljko Markov and then ex-Kalba and Fujairah supremo Fabio Viviani.
There was joy, however, for the latter from a chaotic contest at Emirates in which fellow AC Milan alumnus, Kazakhstan midfielder Alexander Merkel, proved decisive.
Hatta have flitted between the top two divisions since their first appearance in the ADNOC Pro League.
They had become only the second club since the 2013-14 season to record no points from their opening six matchweeks. But Saturday’s haul took them off the foot of the table and within two points of Emirates in 12th. Hope, belatedly, abounds at Hatta.
Bento’s UAE reign truly begins
An ADNOC Pro League pause means attention immediately shifts to the UAE side.
Ex-Portugal and South Korea boss Paulo Bento’s faultless start, that has contained three friendly victories, will receive its first real test when World Cup 2026 qualifiers begin with clashes versus Nepal (Nov. 16) and Bahrain (Nov. 21).
Jazira icon Ali Mabkhout’s five ADNOC Pro League strikes reveal a striker in decent shape. Wasl’s De Lima has been outstanding, while the same can be said for Shabab Al-Ahli winger Yahya Al-Ghassani and Jazira center-back Khalifa Al-Hammadi.
The potential of the side must be realized.
A less talented UAE under a less experienced international manager in Arruabarrena lost narrowly to Australia in the fourth round. Increased qualifying places and Bento’s superior CV will mean greater expectation for 2026.