Sharjah await likely coronation as Arabian Gulf League champions this weekend

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
(Twitter/@SharjahFC).

More than two decades of frustration could end this weekend when long-term leaders Sharjah aim to seal the Arabian Gulf League’s title.

The King have cast aside their tag as regular relegation battlers with a bravura – and potentially historic unbeaten – 2018/19. Abdulaziz Al Anbari’s men boast a six-point advantage ahead of round 24, despite drawing their three previous fixtures.

Second-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club visit improving Al Nasr on Friday. The pacesetters need only match this result 24 hours later at Al Wasl to gain their first top-flight crown since 1995/96, because of a superior head-to-head record.

Elsewhere, relegation could also be sewn up with two games in arrears. A win for 12th-placed Emirates Club against 2020 AFC Champions League chasers Al Jazira would pile the pressure on bottom-placed Dibba Al Fujairah and second-bottom Fujairah.

The Falcons hold a superior head-to-head record against both. With Fujairah also five points in arrears and Dibba currently three, victories versus beaten President’s Cup finalists Al Dhafra and – soon-to-be-deposed – title holders Al Ain, respectively, should be key.

Most popular

Al Ain suffer AFC Champions League elimination, but 'fighting spirit' pleases Juan Carlos Garrido

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Embattled coach Juan Carlos Garrido was encouraged by the belated show of “fighting spirit” from troubled Al Ain, even though a 2-0 loss at Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal guarantees a premature exit from the 2019 AFC Champions League.

Eager Green Falcons winger Hattan Bahebri ominously scored within 15 seconds on Monday evening for the big-spending hosts at King Saud University Stadium. A heavy defeat to compound the misery incurred in a – now – eight-match winless spell seemed inevitable, yet only veteran midfielder Mohammad Al Shalhoub was able to further get on the score sheet with a measured 90th-minute finish from the edge of the penalty box.

This result, with a fixture to spare, sent the hosts through as Group C winners, while eliminating the Boss from the opening phase for the first time in six years. Garrido, however, hoped the dogged display would act as encouragement to gatecrash the Arabian Gulf League’s top-three and secure their ticket for the 2020 continental tournament.

“We do not think about the outcome of any match,” said the 50-year-old. “Our focus was on the game and our goal was to get the three points.

“I was asking the players to show fighting spirit.

“The fact is that the team is going through conditions of decline in performance and has not been at its best for a while. But we are now required to think about our future fixtures and to reserve our AFC Champions League qualifying ticket for next season.”

Young winger Mohammed Khalfan impressed in spurts, but Al Ain struggled to truly threaten. This paucity of opportunity (the Boss had six attempts to Hilal’s 11) frustrated former Villarreal tactician Garrido.

He said: “The real analysis of football matches is always shortened by the final result.

“We suffered a quick goal from the opponent, but we were in the game in the second half.

“But we have not succeeded in translating chances into goals.

“When the easy chances are wasted, you will not be able to achieve any positive result. I cannot fail to congratulate Al Hilal on winning and qualifying for the knockout stages.”

Al Ain round out their ACL commitments with May 20’s dead rubber against Iran’s Esteghlal at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

Most popular

Livewire Mohammed Khalfan earns our Roger Dubuis Al Ain Player of the Day

Matt Jones 7/05/2019
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • Mail
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • G+
  • WhatsApp
  • Pinterest
  • LinkedIn

Al Ain exited the AFC Champions League in disappointing fashion, a third defeat in five Group C games rendering their 2019 campaign over.

The writing was on the wall after just 15 seconds as crafty Brazilian Carlos Eduardo’s slaloming run ended in Hattan Bahebri smashing the hosts in front at King Saud University Stadium.

Rather than surrender and wave the white flag though, the team in white shirts fought valiantly. And it was only through Mohammad Al Shalhoub’s late counter-attack goal that Hilal added gloss to a 2-0 scoreline.

Here we take a closer look at the performance of Mohammed Khalfan.

30-SECOND REPORT

In an opening that was indicative of how rapidly Al Ain’s season has unravelled, they were behind after just 15 seconds. Eduardo sliced through white shirts at will and even when he was brought down, Bahebri had the speed of thought to keep the move going, turning the last man and rifling beyond Khalid Essa.

Thereafter though it was a spirited performance from the visitors. True, Bafetimbi Gomis shanked a shot off the bar and Eduardo always looked a threat, but it was a dogged response from a side playing in a difficult environment.

They dug in and even made a real fist of things in the second half. Barring a lack of quality they created enough openings to have taken a point.

GOT RIGHT – COOL HEAD

Amid a testing period of fixtures and after being carved open in the opening seconds, Al Ain could easily have capitulated. They needed their experienced players to come to the fore.

And even though their veteran midfield trio got to grips with Hilal’s potent attackers, having allowed goalscorer Eduardo to slice through them so easily, so early, young starlet Khalfan really rose to the occasion.

Tongo Doumbia, Amer Abdulrahman and Ahmed Barman all played their part in a stoic resistance but Khalfan showed maturity beyond his 20 years. He was confident on the ball and made intelligent runs in order to open up space for Abdulrahman and Barman to exploit, and with the ball at his feet he provided a threat to the hosts.

An incisive run into the heart of the Hilal defence could even have earned his side a penalty, while he shanked a late shot into the grateful grasp of Abdullah Al Maiouf.

0705 player of day

GOT WRONG – YOUTHFUL EXUBERANCE

Whereas Al Ain will be thankful for his relentless energy and tenacity during tough times, as with any emerging talent, it takes time for them to mature and learn all the facets of the game.

As Hilal’s roaring start stuttered and the visitors put up some resistance, Pericles Chamusca’s charges seemed to deploy spoiling tactics to take the sting out of the game. For all their skills and trickery, widemen Salem Al Dawsari and Bahebri displayed the more tiresome side of the game by flopping to the floor under minimal contact.

In one such instance, goalscorer Bahebri lost out in a tackle to Khalfan. While the youngster stood his ground, he caught the Saudi Arabia international with a stray hand – it was all he needed to tumble theatrically to the floor. A more seasoned player may well have not given him an excuse.

VERDICT

In what’s been a poor campaign for his club, Khalfan has showed a calmness and maturity beyond his youthful years. He was energetic, combative and made intelligent runs throughout the contest and didn’t go hiding or shirking his defensive responsibilities.

He was fearless and flowed forward with attacking intent. It’s been a troublesome period for the Boss and there are testing times ahead. But the lively Khalfan has been a shining light.

7/10

Most popular