The Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup champions dominated proceedings, with playmaker and captain Omar Abdulrahman winning the Best Emirati Player award, Khalid Essa winning the Golden Glove for best goalkeeper, Zoran Mamic named Best Coach, while Egypt sensation Hussein El Shahat was named the Fans’ Player of the Year.
In addition, Swedish striker Marcus Berg won the Golden Shoe having plundered 25 goals in his debut season in UAE football.
The other two awards went to AGL runners-up Al Wahda, with Argentine striker Sebastian Tagliabue winning the Best Foreign Player and goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi collecting the award for Best Young Player.
Al Ain’s players also littered the Team of the Season, with Essa, El Shahat, Berg and Abdulrahman also joined by UAE defender Ismail Ahmed and emerging attacking midfielder Rayan Yaslam.
The rest of the team was made up by Al Nasr defensive duo Mahmoud Khamis and Ahmed Al Yassi, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club centre-back Mohammed Marzooq – who despite playing in a middling team that struggled to fifth place, was part of a defence that conceded a league low 18 goals – Al Jazira’s ferocious forward Ali Mabkhout and Wahda wonder Tagliabue.
Abdulrahman was somewhat fortuitous to pick up a fourth Best Emirati Player award after a quiet campaign by his standards, marred by injury. He adds the award to the trophies he won in 2012/13, 2014/15 and 2015/16.
But the Boss’ grip on the awards was as deserved as their double success, with the Garden City side returning to their glorious roots following a few barren years by their standards.
Mamic’s men lifted a first league title in three seasons, while a seventh President’s Cup overall, but first in four years, was lifted.
Al Ain lost just once in 22 games – a joint record for the professional era – and scored 15 more goals than any rival.
Tagliabue was crowned the league’s best import for the second time. The 33-year-old veteran, who this week signed a new two-year extension with the Clarets, led the goalscoring charts until the penultimate round before being pipped to the Golden Boot by Berg.
Eventually finishing with 23 goals, Tagliabue won the award ahead of Berg and Al Wasl’s Fabio De Lima.
The Pro League Committee, the AGL’s governing body, held the awards at Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace, with the ceremony attended by members of the PLC executive office, as well as UAE national team coach Alberto Zaccheroni, while Jazira goalkeeping coach and former Arsenal stopper Manuel Almunia participated in the new season draw.
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Fujairah’s other Argentine, Danilo Carando, came to the fore in the promotion play-offs as the Wolves began life minus Diego Maradona with a 2-1, first-leg triumph against Hatta.
The Arabian Gulf League’s bottom two – Emirates Club and Hatta – are battling the First Division League’s third and fourth-placed finishers – Fujairah and Al Hamriyah – to join the expanded, 14-team 2018/19 top flight.
After an up-and-down week which saw joint FIFA Player of the 20th Century Maradona’s attachment fluctuate before Saturday’s definitive hiring of replacement coach Dr Abdullah Mesfer, the Wolves players remained concentrated on the pitch.
Forward Carando, 29, struck a low opener at Fujairah Stadium on Wednesday from 20 yards on four minutes. Brazilian midfielder Fernando Gabriel then found the bottom corner on 55 minutes to level up, before Carando headed in an 81st-minute winner.
Meanwhile, Emirates will travel to Sharjah’s Al Hamriyah Stadium with a slender 1-0 advantage.
Prolific Argentine striker Sebastian Saez, 33, rounded goalkeeper Waleed Al Ghafri to convert into an open net on 22 minutes.
All four teams meet again on Sunday.
Optimistic Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is convinced “everything is possible in the world of football”, despite suffering a devastating 4-2 home defeat against Qatar powerhouse Al Duhail in their 2018 AFC Champions League round-of-16 opener.
Tuesday’s clash of the domestic double winners at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium turned into a surprisingly one-sided – and heated – affair. Al Ain were staring at a cataclysmic 4-0 defeat by 55 minutes, before Ahmed Khalil and Ibrahim Diaky struck from the substitutes’ bench to provide a glimmer of hope.
They must now score at least three times next week at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium versus omnipotent opponents who went undefeated in the QNB Stars League and were the only side in Asia to win all their group matches. Despite this gargantuan task, Mamic’s belief in the impossible remains undiminished.
He said: “We made a number of mistakes and we lacked the focus during the game.
“We have conceded four goals, but we managed to reduce the gap. We had to score the third goal.
“Now, we know that there are 90 minutes remaining. We will show our best, correct the mistakes and raise our concentration because everything is possible in the world of football.”
This edition of the continent’s elite club competition has been a trying one for the Boss, in contrast to their serene charge to Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup glory.
Doubts about progression grew after their first four Group D-matches were drawn. But they managed to strike four times in Doha when they thrashed Al Rayyan – a result Mamic is drawing on for encouragement.
“It is certain that our mission will not be easy in the second leg, but we can repeat the scenario of scoring four away goals like we did at the end of the group stage,” the ex-Croatia international said.
“We only have to be optimistic and confident in our ability to qualify to the quarter-finals.
“We have five training sessions before the return game. We will modify our situation and correct our mistakes.”
Next Tuesday’s unlikely quest for the 2002/03 winners will not feature Brazilian forward Caio. The 24-year-old was dismissed late on for kicking out at an opponent.
But veteran UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and influential Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat should both be back in the ranks after they served suspensions.