The possibility of a perfect season is over for Sharjah and now the prospect of a maiden Arabian Gulf League title in quarter of a century is under real threat after they lost for the first time this season.
A last-gasp 3-2 triumph for Al Wasl on Saturday not only dashed dreams of an historic first-ever unbeaten AGL season by any team – it also means their once commanding lead at the top has been trimmed to just three points.
Recent woes and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club’s surge means there is suddenly all to play for with two games remaining.
The King could realistically have been crowned champions on Saturday night as a win over Wasl would have given them a six-point lead over second-placed Shabab Al Ahli with two games to go. But Sharjah have been stumbling down the home stretch, having failed to win in their last four and tasting triumph just once in their last six.
Signs of nerves have been creeping in over recent weeks – a 2-2 draw at home with bottom club Dibba Al Fujairah last week proved panic had firmly set in – and now they have placed themselves in a real dogfight to lift a first league title since 1995/96.
The bigger worry is their next game. They face a daunting home task at AFC Champions League-chasing Al Wahda on Wednesday, while a final day appointment at relegation-battling Emirates Club is no stroll.
1] 53— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague_EN) 11 May 2019
Shabab Al Ahli, meanwhile, have the easier fixtures. They are at home for both, welcoming a promoted Bani Yas side that are almost guaranteed a stellar sixth-placed finish on their top-flight return. A final day fixture follows against another promoted side Fujairah, who are battling to avoid an immediate return to First Division League.
“The last-minute losses are always difficult, but I’m proud of all the players and my confidence is still great that they are capable of achieving the current goal of winning the title,” said Sharjah coach Abdulaziz Al Anbari.
“The reaction of the players to return in the next two games gives us optimism.
“We have a difficult encounter (against Wahda) and the preparation period is short. We have to be very focused on the game because we need points.
“The toughest stage is coming because of the many absences in our ranks due to suspension or injury. We will work to find solutions in the upcoming games and I’m confident in the players after the loss today. I hope we are motivated to provide the best in the coming games.
“I congratulate Al Wasl for the level they played at and the win. You have to forget this game and the result.”
The King thought they were a step closer to their crown when they opened the scoring after 10 minutes at Zabeel Stadium, but star man Igor Coronado’s effort was ruled out for a foul against Wasl keeper Sultan Al Mantheri, after consulting the VAR.
And it was the Cheetahs who raced into the lead six minutes before the break. Fabio De Lima’s effort from outside the box deflected off a defender and nestled in Adel Al Hosani’s net.
تصريح المدرب عبدالعزيز العنبري بعد لقاء الوصل: الحمدلله على كل حال وقدر الله وماشاء فعل، يجب نسيان هذي المباراة والنتيجة، ابارك لفريق الوصل هذا المستوى والفوز. pic.twitter.com/StxpB0o22V— Sharjah نادي الشارقة (@SharjahFC) 11 May 2019
The visitors levelled in the 65th minute when, after an impressive move inside the box, the ball fell to Ali Al Dhanhani who powered into the bottom right corner.
But the hosts were back in front seven minutes later when Ali Saleh smashed home after captain Caio Canedo found him with a pass.
Sharjah refused to give up and netted a second equaliser six minutes from time. They were awarded a penalty following a foul from Al Mantheri, and Coronado converted from the spot to make it 2-2.
Al Anbari’s side pressed for the winner that would almost certainly have ended their title drought but were dealt a blow as Shaeen Abdelrahman saw red for a second booking two minutes from time.
And, deep into injury time, De Lima delivered again with a devastating long drive that flew past Al Hosani to net three points for the men in yellow and leave Sharjah feeling blue.
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