Round 18 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
A trio of first-half goals kept unbeaten leaders Sharjah on course for a first title since 1995/96, while Al Nasr’s nightmare continued upon the resumption after the international break with a 2-1 loss at bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda)
What a servant Tagliabue has been, and continues to be, for the Clarets.
The Argentine striker marked his 200th game for them with a brace in the 2-0 win against relegation-bound strugglers Emirates Club.
A close-range finish and one-on-one moved him onto 177 goals for his current employers since June 2013’s move from Al Shabab Riyadh.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Mauro Diaz (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club)
Anyone with a love for the impudent would have appreciated the speed of thought on display in the 3-1 victory at Ittihad Kalba.
A loose clearance caused the ball to trickle towards the summer buy from Dallas FC. With the goalkeeper charging out at him, self-preservation and an eye for goal saw Diaz improvise a rapid back-heel sweep.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Mohamed Al Khadim (Dibba Al Fujairah)
After an agonising wait of 184 days, bottom-placed Dibba were relishing that winning feeling once again.
Victory at the third attempt was earned by caretaker coach and club stalwart, Al Khadim, after two previous near misses. Brazilian striker Diogo Acosta was key, swivelling to set-up the first and scoring the second in the 2-1 win versus Al Nasr.
Bert’s reasons to be cheerful
Whisper it quietly, but reasons to be cheerful exist for new UAE boss Bert van Marwijk after a first round of AGL games under his care.
Injury hampered forward Ahmed Khalil struck for Shabab Al Ahli. For the next generation, Ali Saleh scored for Al Wasl, Zayed Al Ameri got an assist for Al Jazira and there were clean sheets for Wahda’s Ahmed Rashid and Mohamed Al Shamsi.
The hosts were in control throughout at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium but a terrific Ibrahim Khameis effort – his shot arrowing low into Khalid Essa’s bottom right corner – 13 minutes from time made things interesting.
Before that, the Boss opened the scoring 14 minutes in when a half cleared Bandar Al Ahbabi cross fell to Japanese utility man Tsukasa Shiotani and his well-struck volley took a deflection on its way in.
Both sides had chances and the reigning champions seemingly had a second before the break when Jamal Maroof sidefooted home Marcus Berg’s cushioned header, but the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) came into play and the goal was ruled out with the forward deemed offside.
The Garden City side did get a second goal though after the interval when Ruben Ribeiro collected Saeed Mosabah’s centre and calmly dummied a defender before firing in to make it 2-0.
Khameis clawed the Wolves back into it, but Al Ain held on and will feel they should have won by a more handsome scoreline.
We kept a close eye on Boss talisman Caio during the 90 minutes:
Got right – Thorn in the side
Bar Shiotani’s fine – if slightly fortunate opener – Al Ain had struggled to turn their dominance into an advantage. After a quiet first half, Caio exploded into life in the second as the Boss looked to bank the three points.
Fujairah had their moments but always looked susceptible on the counter-attack, particularly when the ball was at Caio’s feet, and he will be disappointed not to leave his mark on the game with a goal or assist.
He was always the first player team-mates looked for in the opposing half as he hugged the touchline or hung on the shoulder of the last defender.
Ultimately he did play an aesthetic role in the crucial second goal, holding up play and impishly flicking a pass into the path of the onrushing Mosabah whose cross found its way to Ribeiro who finished with aplomb.
Got wrong – Killer instinct
As good as Caio was – and he was excellent – you can’t help but feel that a scoreline that ultimately proved a little too close to call for the home side could have been made far more comfortable by a more clinical performance from the Brazilian.
He was always the main outlet for Al Ain – who were forced to soak up periods of pressure from the marauding visitors – as his pace and trickery posed constant problems.
But his brilliant nutmeg in the opening minute of the second half led to a hasty shot that screeched just wide, while as the Wolves employed more reckless tactics late on as they sniffed an equaliser, Caio allowed goalkeeper Abdualla Al Tamim to dispossess him with two team-mates in white screaming for a pass in the centre.
46min Nutmegs defender on the touchline before bearing down on goal, rifling a shot into the side-netting
59min Backheel slips in Mosabah and he crosses to Ribeiro for the killer second goal
67min Caio stands over a free-kick, sending it whistling just wide
68min An Al Ain counter finds him in space, he beautifully pirouettes and shows fine footwork to eventually tempt Ahmed Al Hefeiti into a needless foul
71min He’s having fun now, with ball sprayed out wide and a delightful first time flick over Khaled Abdulla is far too quick and the defender hauls him down
90+4min Al Ain counter as Fujairah plead for a penalty, Caio beats the offside trap and zeroes in on goal. He bends a shot goalwards and Al Tamim pushes it away for a corner – it did look to be going wide
90+5min Fujairah are badly exposed at the back as they push for a leveler. Caio really should score or pass with three white shirts swarming in on goal. He does neither
Al Jazira head coach Damien Hertog felt his side deserved more after their defeat to league leaders Sharjah on Friday night.
Hertog’s side were beaten 3-2 in a close encounter at Sharjah Stadium – a damaging defeat in terms of their chances of Arabian Gulf League title glory.
They went into the game in third place and nine points adrift of the King, with hopes of cutting down the gap to six with a win. But Sharjah instead opened up the gap to 12, while Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s 3-1 win over Ittihad Kalba saw them jump into second and dump Jazira down to fourth.
Jazira conceded all three goals in the first half, with two coming from the penalty spot courtesy of Igor Coronado as Sharjah went 2-0 up in the first 10 minutes.
Khalfan Mubarak reduced the deficit for Jazira but they found themselves further behind after Sharjah took advantage of Nacer Barazite’s slip to strike again through former Al Wahda man Mohamed Al Shehhi. Fares Juma added a second after half-time for the Pride of Abu Dhabi but despite controlling the game, Hertog’s side could not add to their tally.
While Hertog backs his players to learn from their mistakes, he was satisfied with the team’s work ethic.
“It was a very exciting match as there were a lot of chances and goals,” said Hertog during the post-match press conference.
“The result was not good for us though. We made some mistakes which saw us concede the goals. But mistakes happen and this was not to do with our game strategy. I was pleased with how we got back into the game as well as creating a number of chances.”
He added: “We dominated the game with possession and kept Sharjah’s attackers, who are very skilful, relatively quiet. We knew we had to be at the top of our game against Sharjah and we were as a team as I cannot fault the efforts of the team performance.
But I’m sure the players will learn from their mistakes in time for the next game.”
Hertog also defended Ali Mabkhout’s performance, saying it’s unfair to expect the club’s top-scorer to find the back of the net every week.
“Ali Mabkhout always creates a lot of chances but that didn’t happen today,” added the Dutchman.
“Sharjah had a lot of players behind the ball which made it difficult not just for him but the other players. But Al Jazira is not just about Ali Mabkhout, we have other players in the squad who are really talented and can create chances and score the goals for us.”
Jazira will be back in action on Wednesday, April 4, when they host Al Ain in an Abu Dhabi derby and a game that will likely extinguish any title hopes for the losing team.