Unbeaten Sharjah feeling the 'pressure' as they stumble towards long-awaited AGL title

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(Pro League Committee).

Unbeaten Sharjah are feeling the “pressure” after their stumbles towards a long-awaited Arabian Gulf League title success continued with a 2-2 draw versus bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah, according to boss Abdulaziz Al Anbari.

The King recorded their third top-flight draw on the spin when Moroccan midfielder Driss Fettouhi slotted in a 54th-minute penalty for Friday’s visitors to Khalid bin Mohammed Stadium. A bullet header from UAE centre-back Shaheen Abdulrahman and 18-goal Brazilian striker Welliton’s one-on-one finish had previously seen the hosts rebound from Diogo Acosta’s early opener.

Even amid this downturn, victory at mid-table Al Wasl next Saturday will guarantee the trophy for the first time since 1995/96 regardless of what second-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club do at Al Nasr 24 hours prior.

“Thank God for the result,” said Al Anbari, whose troops are six points ahead with three games left. “We wished for the best, but we entered the game poorly and that did not help.

“I do not blame the players as the pressure on the team is very large.

“This match should be quickly forgotten and the focus must be put on upcoming matches, which will be difficult.

“It is possible that the team has been influenced by the talk from the street in terms of Sharjah settling the league. At the same time, the pressure on everyone is great and this is normal for a team that has not won the competition for many years.

“The final metres are always difficult and the players are making great efforts. I hope to be stronger and we all need to unite at this stage.”

Sharjah had belied their status as regular relegation battlers with a sensational start to 2018/19 that included seven wins and three draws in their opening 10 fixtures.

The likes of troubled holders Al Ain, youthful Al Jazira and improving Shabab Al Ahli have not been able to live with them.

Al Anbari selflessly took the blame for their recent stutters.

He said: “The team’s level of decline is mainly borne by the technical staff. I thank the players for their early season form.

“I am optimistic that the negative results will not continue and that the team is able to return to victories.”

No club in the decade-long professional era have ever gone undefeated before.

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AGL Picks of the Week: Ahmed Khalil is back and Marcao is unlikely Emirates Club saviour

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(Twitter/@Shabab_AlAhliFC).

Round 23 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.

Unbeaten leaders Sharjah are just one win away from a first title since 1995/96 after Brazilian striker Welliton rescued a 2-2 draw with bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah, while 2015 AFC Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil’s renaissance continued with two stunning free-kicks in second-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s 3-2 win against Al Dhafra.

Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:

PLAYER OF THE WEEK

Marcao (Emirates Club)

An unlikely saviour emerged this weekend in Emirates Club’s perennial battle against the drop.

Brazilian anchor man Marcao rose majestically in the second minute to head home in the ‘relegation six-pointer’ at Fujairah, then dug in to ensure an invaluable 1-0 triumph was secured. A three-point gap with three games left is reward.

(Pro League Committee).

(Pro League Committee).

GOAL OF THE WEEK

Caio Canedo (Al Wasl)

It’s been a sorrowful season for Brazilian forward Caio and everyone associated with Al Wasl.

The five-season veteran, however, reaffirmed his quality in the 2-1 win at Ajman. Sharp feet from fellow Brazilian Fabio De Lima bought space inside the area and a low cross was adroitly stroked home at the first attempt by Caio, making it 13 goals in 23 AGL matches.

(Pro League Committee).

(Pro League Committee).

COACH OF THE WEEK

Caio Zanardi (Al Nasr)

Zanardi is making this management lark seem easy, in contrast to his troubled predecessors.

Friday’s 2-1 win against promoted Bani Yas was a fourth in five matches since a second caretaker spell of the season at Al Nasr. It also followed Wednesday’s call to make the technical director their permanent coach until 2021 – better times, probably, await.

(Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

(Twitter/@ALNasrSC).

TALKING POINT

King Khalil’s timely return to form

Weeks like this looked at an end for history making, but injury ravaged, UAE forward Ahmed Khalil.

The 2015 AFC Player of the Year produced three staggering free-kicks in four days, both versus Al Dhafra, to claim both the President’s Cup and cement second place for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club. That’s now five goals in his last six run-outs.

New UAE boss Bert van Marwijk was, also, sure to be an interested observer. World Cup 2022 qualifying begins in September…

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Decisive Al Ain star Bandar Al Ahbabi earns our Roger Dubuis Al Ain Player of the Day

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(Al Ain).

Full-back Bandar Al Ahbabi showcased why he is such a valuable asset for the UAE and Al Ain with an influential performance in Wednesday’s 2-2 draw against Ittihad Kalba in the Arabian Gulf League.

Al Ahbabi, 28, drilled a low rebound home once Japan defender Tsukasa Shiotani’s penalty was saved and made the score 1-1. A dangerous cross was then produced by the goal scorer to cause chaos in the visitors’ ranks, from which promising winger Mohamed Khalfan headed in.

Ivory Coast forward Giovanni Sio would complete his brace in first-half injury time to ensure a share of the spoils. This, however, could not prevent Al Ahbabi from becoming our Roger Dubuis Al Ain Player of the Day.

STATISTICS – AL AIN

Possession: 60 per cent

Fouls: 17

Attempts: 14

On target: 9

GOT RIGHT – ATTACKING ASSET

The dynamic and effervescent Al Ahbabi has developed into a stand-out full-back for club and country, after a career largely spent further up the pitch.

This attacking pedigree was on show at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium against Kalba as he did his best to stop the Boss’ winless run in all competitions at six matches.

The finish to force in a first top-flight goal from 19 appearances this term deserved high praise. Fine technique was exhibited to find the bottom corner.

An unquenched desire to bomb forward also helped put the Boss into a lead they, ultimately, could not hold on to.

GOT WRONG – NO DEFENSIVE LEADERS

Al Ain’s Achilles heel throughout a dispiriting second half of the season has been their creaking backline.

Whether with veterans like Ismail Ahmed or colts such as Saeed Juma, the goals have kept flying into their net.

Al Ahbabi is an experienced asset, yet defensive diligence isn’t, strictly, his forte. He’s started every fixture since March 30’s 2-1 win against Fujairah, a period in which 17 goals goals have been conceded.

No wonder points are draining away every time under ex-Villarreal tactician Juan Carlos Garrido. This weakness is leaving the attack with far too much to do.

0501 player of the day

KEY MOMENTS

7th min GOAL: Al Ahbabi is wide awake and follows in a penalty stop from Kalba goalkeeper Jamal Ali.

16th min CHANCE: The right-back launches a challenging cross, forcing Kalba’s dawdling defence into several slips that Khalfan will punish to make it 2-1.

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