Al Ain lift AGL title in style after four-goal Marcus Berg puts Al Dhafra to the sword

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Marcus Berg scored four times as Al Ain experienced a joyful final day in the Arabian Gulf League (PLC).

It speaks volumes about the brilliance of this Al Ain side that Sunday’s Arabian Gulf League title festivities felt like the start of a thrilling journey, rather than a glorious end.

As the fireworks exploded into the night at a celebratory Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and vanquished opponents Al Dhafra cherished belated survival for another year, coach Zoran Mamic and his utterly dominant 2017/18 squad rightly relished the moment.

No-one could question their ascension when the competition wound up for another season. A trophy, already secured by last Sunday’s penultimate 4-0 demolition of Al Nasr, was simply apt reward for the UAE’s most-decorated outfit.

A 16th win from all 22 engagements had the stamp of sensational Sweden no9 Marcus Berg and his four-goal haul embossed all over it. His deft opening volley with back to goal, predatory tap-in for the third, ruthless penalty for the fourth and close-range drive for the fifth moved him onto 25 strikes from 21 top-flight matches, enough to secure the Golden Boot honours from a profitable debut campaign.

For context, even club legend Asamoah Gyan scored three less during his bountiful opening season in the Garden City during 2011/12.

A selfless decision from the €3.3 million (Dh14.7m) purchase from Greece’s Panathinaikos to lay the ball across for veteran Ibrahim Diaky to finish into an open goal for the second further added a sentimental element.

Even in the face of a 5-0 thrashing, joy wasn’t sole preserve of all-conquering hosts cheering a record-extending 13th AGL crown. The feel-good factor spread to Dhafra courtesy of Nasr’s concurrent 2-2 draw at Emirates Club, condemning the Falcons to next month’s pressurised relegation play-off against First Division League’s Al Hamriyah.

But Al Ain minds, greedy on success, would have soon wandered to Thursday’s President’s Cup final against Al Wasl. Never mind the impending 2018 AFC Champions League round-of-16 double header against Qatar’s imperious Al Duhail to follow.

Setting limits on the achievements of this side would be a futile act. Both now, and in the months and years ahead.

The Boss had chased down fast starters Al Wasl and registered a sole defeat in February. They’d then race seven points clear on the final stretch past bitter rivals Al Wahda, March’s 6-2 thrashing on the same hallowed turf the campaign’s defining moment.

All this was achieved within a backdrop of an unprecedented trophy drought in the modern era that almost stretched to three years.

Mamic had also trod uncertainly in the immediate months after February 2017’s poaching from Saudi Arabia’s Al Nassr.

Doubts were soon cast aside by the relentless Croatian. The ‘Ainawi’ – Al Ain fans – should welcome the imminent announcement of his one-year contract extension like another trophy.

Mamic’s ceaseless drive ensured a winning finale.

It took 25 minutes for Berg to meet defensive midfielder Ahmed Barman’ deep cross with aplomb. A flood of four goals – three from the Swede – came after the interval.

After 35-year-old substitute Diaky was gifted an opportunity to find the bottom corner, Berg exploded.

He finished on the line from UAE prospect Rayan Yaslam’s neat assist, rocketed in a spot-kick after defender Yasser Abdullah’s handball and still found time to prod in from Egypt revelation Hussein El Shahat’s cross.

The Boss are back.

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