Round 22 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Unbeaten leaders Sharjah edged towards a first title since 1995/96 with a hard-fought 1-1 draw at Ittihad Kalba, while the bottom two of Fujairah and Dibba Al Fujairah remain in real danger.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Ronaldo Mendes (Al Wasl)
Both player and club needed this.
Mendes was judged surplus to requirements by the previous Wasl regime, spending the first half of the campaign on loan at Fujairah.
The Brazilian playmaker’s one goal and two assists in the 3-1 win versus Al Jazira was, easily, the best since his return to Zabeel Stadium.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Michael Ortega (Bani Yas)
A special goal in a special win for promoted Bani Yas against opponents who are, technically, still Arabian Gulf League holders.
The Colombian midfielder deftly took down a pass, spun 180 degrees, knocked the ball up and athletically summoned a perfect bicycle kick. Some way to start the scoring in a 2-0 victory versus Al Ain.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Ayman El Ramady (Ajman)
The Orange Brigade must praise the day they gave their Egyptian supremo a shot at the permanent job.
2016/17’s successful promotion has been followed by two seasons of stability in the top flight. Remarkable for this yo-yo club.
The 3-0 triumph versus Dibba Al Fujairah made life comfortable.
Tribute to timeless ‘Tigali’
Timeless Al Wahda hitman Sebastian Tagliabue’s brace in the 5-0 beating of troubled Fujairah moved him top of 2018/19’s scoring chart, with 20 from 22 matches.
On the all-time list, the Argentine is now an incredible fourth after he notched one more than the iconic Adnan Al Talyani’s 129.
At 34-years old, there aren’t many campaigns left for this warrior.
Could he yet surpass Fahad Khamees’ leading 166 strikes? We’ve learned never to discount ‘Tigali’.
Boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena is taking nothing granted ahead of Monday’s President’s Cup final in which his Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club are hot favourites versus Al Dhafra.
The star-studded Dubai outfit are second in the Arabian Gulf League, six places and 16 points in front of opponents at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium who have never lifted a major trophy.
“The stakes are equal before the start of the game,” said ex-Argentina left-back Arruabarrena, who is aiming to lift his club’s first trophy since May 2017’s amalgamation. “It is 50 per cent for each team, in such confrontations there is no place for statistics and previous meetings.
“The game is ninety minutes and who exerts a greater effort will be worthy of the title and deserves the Cup.
Dhafra have blossomed since the summer appointment of Serbia’s Vuk Rasovic. He led Saudi Arabian outsiders Al Faisaly to defeat in last term’s King’s Cup showpiece – and will now be looking to go one better.
“This game is the most important this season,” said goalkeeper Khaled Al Senani. “All players have agreed to provide the best for the title and to make history.”
Clubs both old and familiar will return to the Arabian Gulf League for 2019/20 after Khor Fakkan and Hatta locked out the promotion spots during First Division League’s enthralling final day.
A quartet of clubs – the aforementioned duo, plus Al Hamriyah and Al Urooba – were all in contention for promotion ahead of round 18.
Long-term leaders Khor did their bit by beating second-bottom Al Taawoun 3-0, goals being shared between Abdulqader Qambar, veteran Mohamed Malalla and Brazilian stalwart Rodrigo Silva. This result both clinched the title and confirmed the end of a decade-long absence – they were then called Al Khaleej – from the top flight.
The race for second was far more complex. Hatta – relegated via 2017/18’s unique play-offs – earned an instant and dramatic return thanks to Brazilian attacking midfielder Gilmar 90th-minute clincher in the tense 1-0 victory at fourth-placed Hamriyah, thus allowing a superior head-to-head record against Urooba, who defeated Dibba Al Hisn 2-0, to come into play at the death.
Two from Dibba Al Fujairah, Fujairah and Emirates Club will be demoted from the AGL.