Two-goal hero Ahmed Khalil has declared Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club have only just got started after they defeated Al Dhafra 2-1 to lift the President’s Cup and end the amalgamated club’s two-year wait for a first trophy.
2015 AFC Player of the Year Khalil, 27, headed in the first-half opener on Monday evening at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium and then produced a delightful free-kick to double the advantage. Veteran Western Knights striker Saeed Al Kathiri responded to tee up a grandstand finish, but an equaliser couldn’t be found.
“As an ambitious striker, it was great to register and thank God for the success and scoring of two goals,” he told Al Bayan.
“This achievement is not strange to our club, historically we owned many titles. We look forward to continuing the effort in the coming period.
“We did not easily beat Al Dhafra, who also aspired to the title.
“They had the ambition to win their first title in a difficult final game of course, but we managed to control it and ultimately achieve our goal and win the title.”
May 2017’s merger of Al Shabab, Al Ahli and Dubai CSC created the current outfit.
Under Argentine boss Rodolfo Arruabarrena, they also sit a distant second in the Arabian Gulf League behind unbeaten leaders Sharjah.
Embattled Al Ain supremo Juan Carlos Garrido still has “trust” the floundering Arabian Gulf League holders can enjoy a strong end to the season.
A painful winless streak for the UAE’s most-decorated club, in all competitions, stretched to six with the weekend’s 2-0 defeat at promoted Bani Yas. This parlous run follows a serious talent drain and internal disciplinary issues.
Ex-Villarreal boss Garrido, 50, must now use all his experience to ensure his fourth-placed employers finish within the top three and qualify for the 2020 AFC Champions League, continuing with Wednesday’s trip to lowly Ittihad Kalba.
He said: “I still insist on the importance of winning to improve our position in the league table and to qualify for the AFC Champions League next season. We have to trust our ability to achieve our goal.
“Our next encounter with Ittihad Kalba is very important and my message to the players of Al Ain is clear and focused.”
Kalba are fourth from bottom, but safe from relegation.
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’.