Al Jazira coach Damien Hertog insists it’s vital his side not only secure three points but produce a performance their fans can be proud of as they look to take a big step towards securing AFC Champions League football next year.
In their final home Arabian Gulf League match of the season, Jazira host Al Dhafra on Wednesday, knowing victory over their Abu Dhabi neighbours will maintain their grip on third position with one game to go and strengthen their chances of getting back to Asia’s premier club competition.
Hertog appreciates the fans’ support throughout the entire season and asserted the Pride of Abu Dhabi faithful deserve to be treated to attractive and attacking football.
“It’s important for everyone in the team to give their best display for the fans and finish the last home match in style,” said Hertog during the pre-match press conference.
“It’s not just three points that we want but making our fans proud by playing excellent football, creating chances and scoring goals for them.
“We have scored the most goals this season and that says something about us as we like to play attacking football. The fans enjoy the way we play and we want to combine this by getting a victory.
Next Match— Al Jazira Club (@AlJazira_uae_EN) 12 May 2019
⚽️ Al Jazira vs. @aldhafraclub_ae
🏆 @AGLeague_EN MatchWeek 25
🏟️ Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium
📅 Wednesday, May 15.
⏱️ Kickoff 22:00, Gates Open 20:00
🎟️ Available at https://t.co/qh0PWlVHQg pic.twitter.com/2cdGoyY7yb
“We know three points will boost our chances of qualifying for the Champions League. That is still in our own hands and we will give our best to maintain our position.”
While long-term absentees Mohamed Jamal and Ahmed Rabea remain ruled out through injury, Hertog could also be without Fares Juma and Salem Al Eidi, who are carrying slight knocks. Top-scorer Ali Mabkhout misses out again through suspension.
Despite having a near full-strength squad, Hertog said his players will not take the Western Knights lightly especially after losing to them earlier in the season.
“I expect a tough game against Al Dhafra,” said the Dutchman. “They beat us before earlier in the season and that gave them a lot of confidence for the rest of the season. They reached the President’s Cup final but I am confident if we can play really well we can beat them.”
Young striker Zayed Al Ameri said he his team-mates are determined to get all three points against Dhafra.
“It’s the last home game of the season and we will give our best to win the match,” said the 22-year-old. “We will try and play to our highest level and give the fans something to celebrate.”
Sharjah’s dream lies shattered and now they face the daunting prospect of trying to pick up the broken shards and somehow piece their season back together.
They have stuttered down the home straight in this once processional Arabian Gulf League title race, which has all of a sudden exploded into life.
Pressure does funny things to teams and individuals – especially when you’re trying to lift a first league title in almost half a century. It’s as if the closer they edge to history, the more fragile they become.
Seemingly invincible all season, their bout of jitters has now left them extremely vulnerable. And their remaining two games pose a test of their mental fortitude as juggernauts Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club mercilessly chase them down.
Liverpool can relate to that feeling as they have battled all season long with Manchester City for the Premier League crown. But while the Reds have simply been unlucky and far from bottled their chance of ending 29 years of hurt, Sharjah are mimicking the Merseysiders’ form from five years ago, where they capitulated to hand City the 2013/14 title.
No club in the decade-long professional era have ever gone undefeated before. And in the midst of trying to create a little piece of AGL history, perhaps Sharjah have lost sight of the fact that just hoisting a maiden UAE top-flight title since 1995/96 would suffice.
What will be of pressing concern to coach Abdulalziz Al Anbari now is that, unlike in recent weeks where they’ve had the opportunity to close out the season with winnable fixtures against promoted Ittihad Kalba and rock-bottom Dibba, the pressure only increases.
In-form Al Wahda are the visitors on Wednesday and Henk ten Cate’s side – who last week reached the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League for the first time in 12 years – are chasing down Al Ain and Al Jazira for the coveted third continental qualification spot for next year.
Veteran Clarets striker Sebastian Tagliabue is only getting better with age – the 34-year-old plundered a hat-trick against Ajman on Saturday that moved him onto 25 goals for the season. He is top of the scoring charts, six ahead of Jazira’s Ali Mabkhout, and needs three more to surpass his best AGL tally of 28 from 2013/14.
Shabab Al Ahli are the joint best side in the league on form – alongside Wahda – with seven wins in their last eight. Buoyed by their President’s Cup triumph over Al Dhafra at the beginning of the month, they can now dream of the double.
They have been bruised, but now Sharjah face their most telling test. Will they bend and bounce back, or break beyond repair?
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.