The final battle for places in the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League kicks off on Wednesday with the promotion play-offs’ first legs.
The impending return to a 14-team competition saw the traditional, two-up-two-down format parked. In its place on May 9 and 13, the bottom two from the top flight are set to meet the third and fourth-placed finishers from First Division League – champions Bani Yas and Ittihad Kalba automatically secured their advancement during the regular season.
Second-bottom Emirates Club will look to maintain their AGL status for a sixth-successive campaign when they battle fourth-top Al Hamriyah. But the majority of attention is focused on Diego Maradona-less Fujairah’s quest to go up for the first time since 2015/16 when they scrap with Hatta.
A soap opera between the Wolves and the Argentina icon saw them part ways within hours of April 27’s failure to secure an automatic berth. The club then prematurely announced a shock one-year contract renewal three days later, with negotiations definitively breaking down last Thursday.
Ex-Dibba Al Fujairah, Al Dhafra and UAE Under-23 coach Dr Abdullah Mesfer has stepped into the breach for third-placed Fujairah. But bottom-placed Hatta’s chairman Ali Mohammed bin Obaid Al Badawi quelled talk that this chaos would be a distraction.
“Our focus is on the game, not on the coach’s identity,” he told Al Bayan. “This is with respect to all coaches, whether it is Diego Maradona or Dr Abdullah Mesfer.”
Hatta’s hopes are harmed by the likely continued absence of 11-goal leading marksman Samuel Rosa.
Meanwhile, Emirates will need to defy a wretched run of form that has seen them accrue just one win from their last 11 matches in all competitions.
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