Barren run is over as Zoran Mamic leads Al Ain to first Arabian Gulf League title in three years

Matt Jones - Editor 21:57 21/04/2018
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Al Ain's players celebrate Marcus Berg's opener.

There is nothing unlucky about the number 13 for Al Ain, as the Boss asserted their dominance as the UAE’s most successful club by lifting a first Arabian Gulf League title in three years.

A punishing 4-0 thrashing of Al Nasr saw Zoran Mamic’s side lift a 13th top-flight UAE title – bringing to end a barren run of three years without a major trophy.

The Arabian Gulf Super Cup in 2015 was the last big honour lifted by a club who go hand in hand with glory, with a deserved AGL title triumph also a first trophy of Mamic’s tenure.

Croatian craft has also been a feature of Al Ain’s recent success, with compatriot Zlatko Dalic having overseen the latest era of glory in the Garden City – lifting the league championship, the President’s Cup and Super Cup in a three-year stint, while also taking the club to the brink of continental glory as they finished runners-up in the 2016 AFC Champions League.

He moved onto the international stage with his nation, leading them to this summer’s World Cup in Russia.

Mamic has been left to live not only in Dalic’s shadow but that of former Boss coach Cosmin Olaroiu too – the Romanian won back to back league titles in 2011/12 and 2012/13.

But he now has a title of his own to talk about, one that has been richly deserved in an utterly dominant season and won in style with a demolition job on the Champions League-chasing Blue Wave.

A tricky-looking fixture seemed like it would mean Al Ain having to wait until the final week of the season to secure a much-coveted success, especially with the hosts starting brightly at Dubai Club Stadium, Marcelo Cirino racing clear early on only to fire tamely at Khalid Essa.

Rashed Omer then headed well over as Nasr dominated the opening exchanges.

It took the visitors well over half an hour to register their first meaningful effort on goal when Omar Abdulrahman fired a free-kick into the arms of Nasr stopper Ahmed Shambieh.

A minute later, however, and the Boss were in front, through prolific Swedish marksman Marcus Berg.

January signing Hussein El Shahat did well to dispossess a defender, his ball was scuffed by ‘Amoory’ and palmed away by Shambieh but only into the path of the onrushing Berg, who gleefully tapped in for the easiest goal he’ll get all season.

Still, Nasr retained a grip on the game, but that was loosened on the stroke of half-time when Berg’s bullet header gave the champions-elect a firm grip.

A superb ball from defence split Nasr open and sent Brazilian flyer Caio racing down the left wing. He arrowed in a perfect cross and Berg climbed above Lebanon defender Joan Oumari and Shambieh could only push his header onto the bar, bouncing down over the line to put Al Ain in the ascendancy.

You wondered whether that would see the Blue Wave threat dissipate after the break and it did, the second 45 a mere procession as the brilliant Boss sensed a killer third.

Marcus Berg netted a hat-trick for Al Ain.

Marcus Berg netted a hat-trick for Al Ain.

It came just after the hour, predictably from Berg, although Shambieh should have kept it out. Japan international Tsukasa Shiotani sent in a high hanging cross to Berg who got away from Oumari too easily, nodding into the corner via a weak Shambieh hand.

It was now party time in Al Aweer, Abdulrahman rocking the crossbar soon after with a thunderous long-range effort.

They netted again when Shiotani’s tame shot squeezed past Shambieh but it was called back for an earlier foul, but there was to be a fourth in stoppage time, UAE international striker Ahmed Khalil climbing off the bench and curling in to bring out the commemorative title-winning T-shirts.

The Boss are back in charge.

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