The beaten finalists of the 2015 Asian Confederations Cup (AFC) Champions League, Al Ahli, had only one thing in mind when they signed Senegalese striker Makhete Diop from Al Dhafra in December 2016 - goals!
For the prolific Senegalese has an envious record in the Emirati top-flight. Before his move to Al Ahli, he had scored 77 goals in 109 appearances.
And goals are exactly what Al Ahli got in return when they started their AFC Champions League 2017 campaign. The champions of UAE were widely considered to be one of the best teams in the continent and were desperate to start on the right note against Iranian outfit Esteghlal FC.
At Rashid stadium in Dubai, it was expected of Al Ahli to ease past Esteghlal but what they got was a dogged fight from the underdogs. But the man they brought in to score goals did his job well to fire Al Ahli into the lead in first-half injury time before the visitors got one back in the second half.
Just when it looked like Esteghlal had scuppered Al Ahli’s hopes of a perfect start, their Senegalese star made another decisive contribution. Only, this time there was no response from the stunned opposition. Diop had sent a bullet into Esteghlal hearts with a header into the opposition’s net to snatch all three points for Al Ahli right at the death.
Though his two goals came in injury times of both halves of the game, the tall striker was a constant threat throughout the game for Al Ahli. His shooting was accurate and as it was proved on the night, deadly.
He had five shots on target, of which, a commendable four were on target with two of them converted. One of them included a brilliant turn and shoot from inside the penalty box in the second half which had to be kept out by the Esteghlal goalkeeper.
As expected from a striker of his physical stature, he was a nightmare to deal with in the air for the Iranian defence. He won 75 per cent of the aerial duels he got involved in with Esteghlal defenders, helping his team win the second balls. It was no surprise that his 90th-minute winner came from a header when he rose the highest at the back post to power an unstoppable header home from Everton Ribeiro’s cross.
He was also involved in Al Ahli’s build up play, completing a total of 21 passes in the game with an accuracy of 67 per cent. The forward proved to be a trump card in what was a tight game throughout, winning three fouls for his team.
The Senegalese was also not averse to helping his team out at the back during set piece situations as well. He made two clearances and even put in a tackle for good measure, getting his boots dirty for the betterment of the team.
Diop’s vital contributions against Esteghlal, so invaluable for his team, makes him our player of the round.