Round 20 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Mid-table Ajman humiliated champions Al Ain, inflicting their heaviest home defeat – Sunday’s 4-0 loss – of the professional era. At the bottom, Emirates Club and Dibba Al Fujairah gained vital wins as they battle against relegation.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Igor Coronado (Sharjah)
The €6 million sent Palermo’s way last summer for the Brazilian playmaker seems cheaper by the round.
Coronado came to Sharjah’s rescue at Bani Yas, dispatching a one-on-one and penalty as the unbeaten leaders came from behind to defeat promoted opponents.
A first top-flight title since 1995/96 is moving into view.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Mohamed Al Akbari (Al Nasr)
A stupendous goal laced with significance was rattled in by Al Akbari this weekend.
Back at Al Nahyan Stadium for the second time since a surprise defection from Al Wahda, the forward unleashed an unstoppable curled shot that sparked a revitalising 2-1 win for Al Nasr.
We keep seeing glimpses of a special talent.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Ayman El Ramady (Ajman)
This was a result that dreams are made of.
The Orange Brigade trampled all over the UAE’s most-decorated club, a 4-0 triumph being the heaviest Al Ain have suffered at home in the professional era.
El Ramady deserves more credit. Beyond this historic result, he’s long ended talk of Ajman being a yo-yo club.
Can the Falcons fly free again?
Life is never dull for the Emirates Club faithful.
The Falcons, as always, have been locked in a battle against relegation all season. But Friday’s epic 3-2 victory at Al Dhafra, ending a nine-game winless run, has propelled them out of the bottom two and sparked talk of another great escape.
Emirates’ indefatigable reputation has been established by finishing one point above the drop zone in 2015/16 and 2016/17, then requiring a relegation play-off to survive a season later. Will they do it again?
Al Ain’s Arabian Gulf League reign looks to have finally come to an end following a 4-0 home defeat by Ajman.
As the rain poured down at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, so did the goals for the Orange Brigade, who were the only colourful thing on a dark day for the Boss.
Here we take a look at the performance of Al Ain’s one bright spark, Bandar Al Ahbabi.
A spirited fightback from 2-0 down to draw 2-2 with Al Duhail during the AFC Champions League in midweek was supposed to galvanise a squad still broken by their 5-1 beating by Al Jazira in Al Clasico. But, instead, a succession of errors and misfortune befell the Boss.
They went behind after half an hour, Stanley Ohawuchi profiting from a horrendous mix-up between Mohammed Fayez and Ismail Ahmed, rounding Khalid Essa to net. Abdullah Malalla made it 2-0 just before the break when his fierce strike took a wicked deflection off Mohanad Salem and left Essa helpless. The hapless stopper then unwittingly contributed to the Orange Brigade’s third six minutes into the second half when Adil Hermach met Vander Vieira’s corner with a thunderous header that came back off the bar, hit Essa and went in for an own goal.
Viieira then profited from yet another Ahmed error, seizing on his under-hit back-pass and rounding Essa again to slide home.
GOT RIGHT – PROVIDING A SPARK
It’s difficult to put any gloss on this performance, but if the hosts were ever going to claw their way back into the contest, Al Ahbabi always seemed the likely catalyst.
His relentless energy up and down the right wing – as well as his forays into midfield – dragged opponents all over the place. And with target man Marcus Berg providing a beacon to fire balls into, the right-back’s long bombs and crosses were proving the most effective method of attack for the hosts.
Only committed goalkeeping, defending and an off-day for the Swede prevented the Boss from breaching the visitors’ goal-line.
Additionally, though it may not be much comfort, he was the only player in the back five who was not directly at fault for at least one of the Ajman goals.
GOT WRONG – PETULANCE
The speedy defender is not often caught out for pace but he was during the first half by the fleet-footed Mame Thiam. The Senagalese showed good skill in a tight space to fashion a chance, and the former Bani Yas man had no choice but to manhandle him to the ground.
Al Ahbabi could have seen yellow for the foul, he was fortunate in the extreme not to be cautioned for kicking the ball away in frustration, especially as it was seemingly aimed in Thiam’s direction.
Arabian Gulf League leaders Sharjah were made to breathe a sigh of relief after they came from behind to defeat “unlucky” Bani Yas and head into the midweek showdown against champions Al Ain still unbeaten, according to coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari.
The King fell behind in just the third minute at Bani Yas Stadium through winger Suhail Al Noubi’s smart finish. Ex-Palermo playmaker Igor Coronado then moved onto 13 top-flight goals from a sensational debut campaign, saving the day against promoted opponents with a first-half one-on-one and nerveless second-half penalty kick.
“Thank God for the result and mabrouk [congratulations] for Sharjah for the win,” said Al Anbari, who next welcomes the Boss on Wednesday. “Bani Yas were unlucky, they presented a great game and a wonderful level like they have all season.
“It was a very tough match. We studied Bani Yas well and managed to overcome the shock of an early goal.
“We must now forget this match and focus on the next game, against Al Ain. I wish success to the team and to continue this journey with positive results.
“There are 18 points left to play for and this is not simple. High concentration is required, especially with the end of the league nearing.
“Al Ain has great experience in all tournaments and the level they offer in the AFC Champions League is proof that they are able to come back again, at any time.”
Sharjah hold a nine-point advantage over second-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club. They last won the league crown in 1995/96.