Arabian Gulf League pacesetters Al Wasl host Al Ain on Friday in the Arabian Gulf League in what is a top of the table clash (7.45pm kick-off).
Something has got to give this weekend as both teams enter the match at Zabeel Stadium unbeaten in the league after the first 11 round of fixtures.
Indeed, only goal difference separates Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s Al Wasl side with Al Ain, with Friday’s hosts having netted just twice more this term and conceded one fewer goal.
It is all set-up to be a thriller in Dubai with Wasl striker Fabio Lima very much the man to watch given the Brazilian leads the league’s goalscoring charts this term with 12 strikes to his name.
Visitors Al Ain, who are managed by Zoran Mamic and of course can count UAE star Omar Abdulrahman among their playing XI, will need to put in a stellar showing if they are to take anything away from the fixture.
The league table below shows just how tight things are this season while our graphic illustrates how 24-year-old Lima has been arguably the man of the campaign so far.
A revolutionary online system is set to replace paper tickets in the Arabian Gulf League, beginning with this round on Thursday and Friday.
Organisers, the Pro League Committee, approved the change as part of the strategic plan which prioritises the use of technology and smart apps through strategic initiatives. Fans can purchase ticketing with ease through the website: www.platinumlist.net/arabian-gulf-league.
Prices range from Dh10-500, depending on category and class of fixture. Cheapest entry for Thursday’s meeting between Hatta and Shabab Al Ahli at Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium is Dh10 , while Friday’s top-of-the-table thriller between Al Wasl and Al Ain at Zabeel Stadium begins at Dh20.
This comes in an effort from the PLC to boost the sporting creativity culture, develop smart operations and increase adoption of modern technologies in the management and organisation of PLC competitions to deliver technological progress that matches the progress achieved on the pitch, evident in topping AFC domestic competitions ranking for four-consecutive times in one year.
Anything designed to boost the often-paltry attendances in the Arabian Gulf League has to be welcomed.
This initiative adds an air of modernity to a practice which before often felt so haphazard.
For the big fixtures, such as Friday’s huge match between Al Wasl and Al Ain, the original process was a free-for-all.
An opaque and intimidating approach made it too easy to shy away for both non-Arabic speakers and the uninitiated interested in testing out the competition. Why bother when answers for simple questions remained infuriatingly hard to find; Where can you buy them? How much do they cost? Where do you pick them up?
Now, with a few easy clicks anyone can gain access – from casual expats to the fully committed.
Such moves have been longed for. Attendance boosting is a major aim for the league, but drives have been rare.
In 2009, Al Ahli – who transformed into Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club last May – became the first club in the Middle East to sell tickets online. Few of their peers followed.
So many everyday transactions have now moved to the web, from ordering a taxi through Uber or Careem to tickets at Dubai Opera. The AGL catching up has to be applauded.
Let’s hope it is the start of a new, inclusive era.
Sebastian Tagliabue issued a stark warning to the rest of the Arabian Gulf League by vowing there are plenty more goals to come from him as he aims to fire Al Wahda to title glory – on a night the Argentine moved into clear third place on UAE football’s all-time top scorers’ list in the professional era.
Tagliabue was in sensational form in the Abu Dhabi derby on Monday, netting a hat-trick in the Clarets’ 4-2 win over champions Al Jazira at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
That brought his tally for the season to 17 goals in all competitions, sitting top of the Arabian Gulf Cup with six strikes and one behind Al Wasl hotshot Fabio De Lima on 11 in the AGL charts.
His prolific form means Wahda go into the second half of the season still in contention to earn silverware. The Clarets sit third in the AGL, two points behind joint-leaders Wasl and Al Ain, and are on the verge of reaching the semi-finals of the AG Cup following their 2-1 first-leg win over the Boss last month.
With the AFC Champions League beginning next month, as well as their President’s Cup defence, Wahda face a busy schedule in the next six months.
But Tagliabue – who now has 98 AGL goals, three behind former Al Ain striker Asamoah Gyan, and scored his eighth league hat-trick, joint most in the professional era with Ali Mabkhout – is confident of continuing his fine form, although he would be happy if his goals rewarded him with the ultimate prize in UAE football.
“I think so (plenty of more goals), said the 32-year-old. “It’s my first game of 2018 and we’re in third place. I try to win as many games and my tallies have shown I’m having a good season. Winning the golden boot will be great but I want to win the league title and become a champion. If I win the golden boot that would be perfect.
“We are in a good position and two points behind the leaders but there’s still more matches to play which I hope we can win.”
Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf praised the Argentine, crediting the whole team for creating the chances for their stand-in skipper.
“I’m very happy that he scored three and was given many chances to score,” said the Romanian, who recently extended his stay at Al Nayhan Stadium until the end of 2019 season. “That is the work of all the players which we work on in training every day.”
Despite victory, Reghecampf was unhappy his team conceded twice in the last five minutes after Mohamed Al Akbari made it 4-0.
“The matches are only finished when the final whistle is blown, that’s what our players have to understand,” he said. “The two goals we conceded in the last five minutes isn’t good for us. I’m not happy, we have to be 100 per cent focused until the end of the match.”