Round 20 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Habib Fardan (Al Nasr)
A resurgence continues for Fardan and his beloved Nasr.
The 28-year-old, back after four mixed years away, notched a header and deflected drive in a 3-1 victory versus Emirates Club. This capped off a strong personal run, which includes last month’s UAE recall.
For Nasr, that’s now three wins in a row under caretaker Caio Zanardi.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Nacer Barazite (Al Jazira)
Maybe Al Jazira and Manchester City share more than patronage by H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister of the UAE and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
A goal of startling quality in the 2-2 draw with Dibba Al Fujairah ended with five one-touch passes, before midfielder Nacer Barazite tapped the ball in. Sheer beauty.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Juan Carlos Garrido (Al Ain)
A show of defiance in the face of adversity from – recently diminished – Al Ain.
Injuries, poor form and disciplinary issues saw the sinking champions rock up at imminent usurpers Sharjah with a thrashing expected. Instead, a 2-2 draw – that ended a two-match losing streak – was laced with frustration as it included an 88th-minute leveller.
What’s wrong at Wasl?
Al Wasl should be checking the fine print of the renewal, worth $7 million, signed until 2021 by boss Laurentiu Reghecampf last month.
The surrender from three-goals up to draw 3-3 at second-bottom Fujairah ended a three-match winless run in the worst-possible manner.
After five years of progress, Wasl have taken troubling backwards steps. Reghecampf is yet to truly show he’s the man to lift them again.
Al Jazira head coach Damien Hertog says his team is more than capable of maintaining their recent momentum when they face Dibba in Friday’s Arabian Gulf League clash.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi welcome bottom-placed Dibba to Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium with the hosts looking to secure their third consecutive victory in the competition.
Hertog has been pleased with his side’s recent form and is confident his players will again excel and claim another three points.
“We got a very good result last week (4-2 win) against Ittihad Kalba in difficult conditions, which was a second straight victory and we want to continue this winning streak against Dibba,” Hertog said in his pre-match press conference.
“Winning games gives the whole squad confidence which is very important in football.
We have played some excellent football, creating a lot of chances and scoring goals. But we want to keep on improving as a team and raise our performances. The players are keen to get more good results and I am confident they can continue their good form and get the three points against Dibba.”
Although Dibba is bottom of the standings, they have won two of their last three matches and Hertog insists his team cannot afford to underestimate their opponents.
“Dibba will not be an easy match at all,” he said. “They have won a couple of games now so they will be confident. We will have to play our best football against them.”
Al Jazira will be without top-scorer Ali Mabkhout through suspension, as well as Ahmed Rabia, Adel Abubakr and Khalfan Mubarak, who are all injured.
Mabkhout has been prolific with 19 goals this season but Hertog believes there is plenty of firepower to deal with his absence.
“Ali Mabkhout is an experienced player who is the top-scorer in the league and anyone of that quality will be missed,” said the Dutchman. “But we have missed many key players before and this is a great challenge for other players to step up and show their attacking qualities by contributing with goals.”
Al Ain fought back from a goal down – as well as recovering from a humiliating and historic 4-0 hammering at home against Ajman last time out – to spoil the Sharjah title party.
A 2-1 win was in the offing and would have been significant, a maiden black mark on the King’s previously unbeaten 2018/19 calendar, but Sharjah struck late to preserve their unbeaten Arabian Gulf League campaign.
Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s side remain nine points clear at the top, with the result a shot in the arm for a Boss side who looked completely shot in their galling defeat on Saturday.
Igor Coronado’s rocket of a free-kick gifted the hosts a fortunate lead but the Boss’ Jamal Maroof – an ex-Sharjah employer – fired his side level and also won the penalty from which Tsukasa Shiotani put them in front. Welliton atoned for his concession of the penalty to level minutes from the end.
With such a pivotal role played against his old team, we take a closer look at the performance of hard-working Maroof:
GOT RIGHT – PENALTY BOX PREDATOR
For a forward not exactly known for his goalscoring prowess, Maroof showed plenty of attacking magic against his former side – in the thick of all the main action.
He latched onto Bandar Al Ahbabi’s intelligent threaded pass and lashed home a clever first-time finish to flummox Sharjah stopper Adel Al Hosani and draw Al Ain level in the 35th minute
He was only denied a second goal by a stunning Al Hosani save just after the hour mark when he met Al Ahbabi’s clever cross with his head at the back post. He was then also pivotal in the incident from which the Boss did take a 2-1 lead.
At first his fall felt theatrical, but replays showed Sharjah striker Welliton’s attempt to clear was wild as he caught Maroof, who tumbled.
GOT WRONG – DECISION MAKING
You have to admire a player who, while limited, excels just because he does the simple things so well – running, tackling, passing to more gifted team-mates. It is simple traits such as these that so many footballers today undervalue.
But while Maroof’s boundless energy and limitless work ethic are admirable qualities, it means he often gets caught out of position chasing lost or needless causes – a case in point was his booking for tracking Majed Surour so closely that he felt the urge to tug him back, which gave Sharjah attacking impetus.
After two fruitless years at Sharjah, you could forgive Maroof for feeling more than a little miffed that he jumped ship at the wrong time in the summer – although how was he to know that the King were about to embark on a royally impressive campaign?
He’s never been the most prolific of finishers – his highest season’s tally stands at three, for Emirates Club, in 2013/14. That’s pretty woeful for a forward. But while he only sporadically delivers in front of goal, what is always guaranteed is graft and grit.
There was also plenty of guile here as his finish was both instinctive and clinical – while his energy and tireless work-rate posed constant problems for his former side.
35th min: Rayan Yaslam rides a challenge and feeds Al Ahbabi. He sees the run of Maroof and threads an inch-perfect pass into his pass and he shoots first time through the legs of Al Hosani.
65th min: Al Ahbabi intelligently stands up a cross to Maroof at the back post. Only a sensational Al Hosani save prevents the forward from nodding in his second.
68th min: Controversial moment as Maroof drops to the floor in the box. Replays suggest Welliton’s challenge was more than a little robust – even if Maroof’s tumble was theatrical. VAR is consulted and the penalty is given. Shiotani smashes home the spot kick with his weaker right foot.
78th min: Maroof chases down Surour and earns a yellow for tugging him back.