Unstoppable Al Wahda star Sebastian Tagliabue is 'best striker' in the Arabian Gulf League

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Sebastian Tagliabue collects the match ball (Twitter/@AlWahdaFCC)

Coach Laurentiu Reghecampf has no doubts that Al Wahda boast the Arabian Gulf League’s “best striker” after the unstoppable Sebastian Tagliabue rocketed in yet another hat-trick.

‘Tigali’, 33, scored three times within 30 first-half-minutes during a 3-2 win at Sharjah on Saturday that extended the title fight with champions-elect Al Ain into the penultimate round. This was his third treble during his last seven matches in all competitions, a run that includes a phenomenal total of 13 goals.

It also caused him to move within four strikes of former Al Ain and Ghana superstar Asamoah Gyan’s 110-goal mark as the leading foreign scorer of the professional era.

“I was sure we would win,” said Reghecampf post-match. “Despite the absences, the most important thing for me is that we keep our level. In regards to the rest of the season, now we must focus perfectly on the game against Al Jazira in the President’s Cup on Thursday.

“I also must say, Tigali continues to prove to everyone that he is the best striker.”

Tagliabue has exceeded even the wildest expectations since he was snapped up from Saudi Arabia’s Al Shabab Riyadh in June 2013.

His efforts at the weekend saw him join Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima as joint-leading marksman in the 2017/18 top flight on 19 goals.

These came from a wide-open first half at Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium as Sharjah showed no reticence and twice took the lead against second-placed opponents.

Their boss Abdulaziz Al Anbari was only disappointed his charges hadn’t heeded any warnings.

He said: “We talked to the players about the danger of Tigali. But we should not forget what the players did in previous games, we encourage them and trust that they will do their best in the coming games.

“The early goal contributed to the game being very open, especially as Wahda entered the match knowing they must win to keep competing for the title.

“The good thing is we scored two goals and the sad thing is that we conceded three times.”

THE FINAL COUNTDOWN BEGINS

The 2017/18 AGL title could be decided on Saturday, April 21, after organisers announced the second-to-last round of matches.

Both leaders Al Ain and second-placed Wahda will take to the field at 18:00. A win for the former at Al Nasr will guarantee a first top-flight trophy since 2014/15 because of their four-point advantage, no matter what the Clarets do when they play promoted Ajman.

Most popular

Diego Maradona's No2 Luis Islas on Fujairah promotion dream and his own UAE coaching ambitions

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Luis Islas (c) behind Diego Maradona as he drills the Fujairah players (Twitter/@Fuj_FC)

Fujairah’s quest to earn a return to the Arabian Gulf League has more than one World Cup winner behind it.

Standing beside inimitable Argentina icon Diego Maradona is assistant Luis Islas. The 52-year-old had no hesitation to follow El Pibe de Oro – The Golden Boy – when he shocked the sport last May by ending a five-year spell away from the dugout in the UAE’s First Division League.

Fast forward 10 months and the undefeated Wolves are locked on 40 points in a head-to-head battle with Ittihad Kalba for the second automatic promotion spot. It is a calling Islas takes just as seriously as their conquest of World Cup 1986 together, or when the 30-times-capped goalkeeper started all four games at the 1994 edition.

But his ambitions don’t start and end with Maradona.

This is the first time the duo have come together in their post-playing careers. The No2 has been a No1 since 2006 at clubs such as Bolivia’s Aurora (twice), plus Almagro, Central Norte, Racing de Cordoba, Atletico Colegiales and Deportivo Espanol in his homeland.

There is gratitude for what Fujairah have offered both Islas and his family. Although, a desire to be entrenador – head coach – burns bright in this new country embraced by them all.

“Working with Diego is a pleasure,” he tells Sport360°. “But we know this is football and there is only a few weeks left until the contract is over.

“This time, I have the capacity and ability to work alone. I feel confident I’d do a great job. In the UAE, football is about looking for results – every week you have to win. I like that challenge.

“I am happy in Fujairah and I thank them for the opportunity. My family is also happy, too. If it is not at Fujairah, I am interested in all the other teams.”

The bond between the pair was forged on the baking training pitches of Mexico. More than 30 years ago, a promising shot stopper only just out of his teens got taken under the wing of the globe’s greatest footballer.

“As a player at World Cup 1986, when we won it, Diego used to finish the training and every day we would stay together and practice free-kicks,” Islas reveals.

“Diego is five-years older than me. I was only 20 and Diego was 25. As a player, I conceded very few free-kicks. This is because as a player, I trained with Diego.

“I have known him for more than 30 years. I played two World Cups with Diego and we are always in touch. I was coaching in Argentina and my contract was over. When I received the phone call, I had no doubts and said ‘yes’.

“We have many games together, been at World Cups but now we give everything to get the objective at Fujairah – to gain promotion to the Arabian Gulf League.”

Fujairah are locked in a battle with Ittihad Kalba to finish second.

Fujairah are locked in a battle with Ittihad Kalba to finish second.

It is important to detach Islas from his lionised colleague.

Further sources of inspiration as a head coach range from one of Mexico’s greatest trophy hoarders to a pair of World Cup winners, plus his privileged viewpoint.

Islas says: “When I was a football player, I was very lucky to work with great coaches who also went to the national team. Enrique Meza coached Mexico and Toluca. I was coached by Cesar Luis Menotti and Carlos Bilardo, champions of the World Cup.

“I also played for 27 years. Every game of my life as a goalkeeper I always had the best view.”

In the UAE’s second tier, Bani Yas are already guaranteed an instant comeback to the AGL.

The remaining sides are likely scrapping for one automatic berth and two play-off spots, ahead of official confirmation of the competition’s return to 14 sides for 2018/19.

The small matter looms of Thursday’s tie with AGL champions-elect Al Ain in the President’s Cup quarter-finals.

Islas has embraced the high-profile contest at Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s stadium Al Aweer. But just like his own personal coaching ambitions, focus is not straying from the main mission – getting Fujairah back to the big time for the first time since 2015/16.

He says: “The responsibility of the game against Al Ain is big. The team will give 100 per cent. We go to win and we want to make the next step. But we have two more very important games in the league, as well.”

Most popular

Former UAE Olympic defender Ali Al Ameri makes shock switch to England minnows Blyth AFC

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
Ali Al Ameri (l) in action for Bani Yas in 2016/17 (PLC).

Arabian Gulf League outcast and UAE London 2012 Olympics centre-back Ali Al Ameri has surprisingly found a new home in the 10th tier of English football at Blyth AFC.

Al Ameri, 29, had not featured in any of Bani Yas’ games this term after their relegation to First Division League in 2016/17. He last featured in March 2017’s 6-2 thrashing by Al Wahda in the top flight.

The ex-Al Jazira and Al Nasr player officially completed a six-month deal without salary on March 31 after spending several weeks training at the side from the north east of England, who compete in EBAC Northern League Division Two.

“His pedigree is second-to-none, if you look at his career and where he’s been,” said Blyth joint-manager Ian Skinner.

“It was a bit of a chance signing, he’s a friend of somebody I know. Ali has been good in training and we went through the official channels after he had his contract cancelled with his team.”

Wahda and UAE centre-back Hamdan Al Kamali made eight appearances for Lyon’s reserves when on loan for the second half of 2011/12. Brother Hamid Al Kamali became the first Emirati to compete in the UEFA Champions League’s preliminary stages during a temporary stint at Malta’s Valletta in 2014/15.

UAE centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman had a trial at Blackburn in 2013 and Al Ain superstar Omar Abdulrahman went through the same process at Manchester City after the 2012 Games.

Most popular