Sharjah and Al Ain lead the way in the Arabian Gulf League after 12 rounds of action – with both teams picking up wins while title rivals slipped.
We look at a few topics of discussion:
NOT A HEARTY START FROM HERTOG
Sharjah are now the sole remaining unbeaten team this season after Al Jazira’s surprising maiden defeat of the campaign at lowly Al Dhafra.
Hardly the most helpful of welcomes for new Pride of Abu Dhabi coach Damien Hertog, whose first game after replacing the briefly brilliant Marcel Keizer yielded a first defeat in 12 games for the title hopefuls. All is not lost – not by any means. Joint leaders Sharjah and Al Ain remain a mere three points ahead with much of the season still to go.
But it is the meek nature of the defeat that will rightly worry Dutchman Hertog. Defence and goalkeeper were at fault for a timid opener, poked home by Romulo dos Santos – who was not done with Jazira. He unstoppably glanced in Humeid Abdulla’s cross to make it 2-0 with 12 minutes left to play.
And just when lethal Ali Mabkhout threatened a comeback with an 88th-minute strike to make it 2-1, the vulnerable visitors conceded a third less than two minutes later. Plenty to ponder for the new man.
SHABAB ON THE SLIDE?
Jazira weren’t the only team with title aspirations to stumble this week as impressive Shabab Al Ahli fell to defeat in Abu Dhabi as brilliant Bani Yas strolled to a 3-0 win.
OK, so the fact Henrique Luvannor was harshly sent off in the 67th minute with his side trailing only 1-0 skews the scoreline slightly, but it’s a blot on Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s record at the resurgent Dubai side, who lost for just the second time in their last 12 games in all competitions.
Like Jazira, defeat is not critical. The Argentine’s men lie fourth and are just six points off the lead. Up next is a President’s Cup clash against Ittihad Kalba with an inviting game against Fujairah their next appointment in the league.
They need to win on their travels because after there is a big test looming against the Pride of Abu Dhabi in the capital on December 22. Lose that and their title ambitions really could unravel rather rapidly.
BOSS MUST BEWARE
Al Ain signed off for what could be a lengthy break from AGL action with a comfortable win over struggling Al Wasl. On the face of it Zoran Mamic’s men look in great shape heading into the FIFA Club World Cup – level at the top with Sharjah.
But, they face New Zealand’s Team Wellington at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in the December 12 curtain-raiser for the continental club competition. Negotiate their way past the Kiwis and they will be in the tournament proper.
A year ago, UAE rivals Jazira enjoyed a trip to the semi-finals – and led European giants Real Madrid for a long time in their star-studded clash. But a deep run in the tournament took its toll and they were in freefall after Christmas – and they weren’t in good shape to begin with.
The Boss are in a commanding position in the league, and Mamic will need to manage his team very carefully going into the glamour competition. There is a big picture, but he will find it difficult conveying that to his players.
Sharjah and Al Ain lead the way in the Arabian Gulf League after round 12 of action – with both teams picking up wins while title rivals slipped.
Al Jazira fell to Al Dhafra in a surprise defeat against the relegation-threatened Western Knights, while 10-man Shabab Al Ahli were thrashed 3-0 by Bani Yas.
Here are our Picks of the Week from round 12:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Romulo dos Santos (Al Dhafra)
Whoever this award went to this week, it would have been an Al Dhafra player. There were two hat-trick heroes in their impressive win over Al Jazira – Brazilian striker Romulo and assist king Humeid Abdulla, who teed up his team-mate for all three of his goals.
We have to give it to the man putting the ball in the back of the net though, simply because of his perfect treble – left foot, header, right foot. He pounced on a defensive shambles to open the scoring, his second was a glorious glancing header and his third wrapped up the points.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Krunoslav Jurcic (Bani Yas)
The Sky Blues are an odd commodity this term. In truth not much was expected after bouncing straight back to the big time following relegation in 2016/17. But along with fellow promoted sides Ittihad Kalba and Fujairah, they’ve impressed immensely.
They’ve only won three times but have only lost three in 12 games, with six draws. This commanding victory over title-chasing Shabab Al Ahli – albeit they led 1-0 when the visitors had Henrique Luvannor sent off – is another fillip for them and their Croatian coach, who move up to eighth.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Marquinhos (Al Nasr)
Not a stellar week for great goalscoring in the AGL, although the Brazilian’s strike was the pick of them. It wouldn’t have immediately transpired that this would have been a goal of the week contender had you watched the build-up, but it was finished in style.
Scrappy defending from the Wolves seemed to have stemmed the Blue Wave tide, but when a half-hearted clearance fell at the feet of No31 on the edge of the box, he composed himself before rifling an unstoppable shot into the top corner of Abdualla Al Tamim’s net.
Promotion sides purring
We should all marvel at the stupendous seasons being enjoyed by the three promoted sides, all of whom are making a mockery of their tags as underdogs coming into the 2018/19 campaign.
When you emerge from the second tier into the top-flight, your arrival is rightly met with scepticism. But Bani Yas, Ittihad Kalba and Fujairah are more than holding their own, the Sky Blues and Wolves earning three wins apiece and the Tigers clawing their way to four wins from 12 games.
Could it actually be possible for all three to stay up? Who knows, but with Kalba seventh, Bani eighth and Fujairah 11th – with just three points separating them – only a fool would back against the trio.
Sharjah and Al Ain laid down the gauntlet to fellow Arabian Gulf League pacesetters Al Jazira with impressive wins on Monday night.
The three clubs came into round 12 locked on 25 points at the top of the table, with only the Pride of Abu Dhabi playing on Tuesday.
In the early kick-off, Sharjah returned to winning ways with a dramatic 3-2 victory at struggling Al Wahda.
Uzbekistan midfielder Otabek Shukurov produced a fine first-time finish to open the scoring on 20 minutes. But the scores were levelled up soon after the break thanks to prolific Argentine hit man Sebastian Tagliabue’s close-range header.
The final five minutes would then see Sharjah go ahead through Welliton’s tap-in, Wahda midfielder Mohamed Al Hammadi repeat the trick with another rebound and the visitors claim it at the death through the aforementioned Brazilian striker’s one-on-one.
Meanwhile, Al Ain cruised to a 3-1 victory at Al Wasl that put the nosediving hosts just three points above the drop zone.
Sweden No9 Marcus Berg moved onto 10 top-flight goals for the season with his slotted 19th-minute opener and Brazilian Caio made it 2-0 shortly after the interval with a superb one-touch strike.
An own goal from UAE veteran Ismail Ahmed soon gave Wasl hope, only for Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat’s late strike to seal it.
In the day’s other game, bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah suffered a 10th league defeat of the season courtesy of promoted Ittihad Kalba’s 3-1 win.