Round 25 of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League delivered several stellar displays, at both ends of the table.
Brazilian playmaker Igor Coronado was decisive as long-term leaders Sharjah finally got their hands on the title. At the bottom, Dibba Al Fujairah gave themselves a fresh shot at a final-day salvage job with a spirited 3-1 victory against Ittihad Kalba.
Here are Sport360’°s top picks and a talking point:
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Igor Coronado (Sharjah)
So often during a revelatory 2018/19, Sharjah have looked to their €6 million Brazilian playmaker for inspiration.
On almost every occasion, the summer buy from Palermo has answered the call. This was the case again on Thursday when his two goals helped secure the 3-2 victory against Al Wahda that secured a first title in 23 years. What a player.
GOAL OF THE WEEK
Mohamed Al Akbari (Al Nasr)
Light at the end of the tunnel, for Nasr and their promising forward.
Injury, off-field worries about brother Ahmed and his new club’s wretched campaign have tempered the output of a bright prospect.
But a 3-0 win at Fujairah was lit up by his dummy, searching run and delightful volley from Spanish star Alvaro Negredo’s deft chip. Some goal.
COACH OF THE WEEK
Mohamed Al Khaddeim (Dibba Al Fujairah)
The great escape is still on for minnows Dibba Al Fujairah.
The Fishermen have spent the vast majority of 2018/19 moored to the bottom of the table. Their 3-1, come-from-behind win at Ittihad Kalba, however, has provided much-needed hope.
Caretaker Al Khaddeim must now beat Bani Yas in Saturday’s final game – and wish for the best.
Who can reclaim the crown?
Sharjah emerged from nowhere to roar towards merited success.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, however, have responded with 12 wins from their last 13 games. With a substantial summer budget expected, watch them rise further.
At Al Ain, coach Pedro Emanuel is poised to be poached from Saudi Arabia upstarts Al Taawoun ahead of a full summer refit. This represents a promising start.
Sharjah’s challenge should be answered. Intrigue awaits for 2019/20.
Sublime Sharjah playmaker Igor Coronado declared “a lot of questions” posed after last July’s bold decision to quit Italian football have been emphatically answered by ample Arabian Gulf League glory.
Coronado, 26, came away with the prestigious ‘The Golden Ball – Best Foreign Player’ gong from Friday night’s 2018/19 AGL Awards thanks to his pivotal role in his new club’s shock first top-flight triumph in 23 years. The Brazilian’s 17 goals and nine assists provided an instant return on the €6 million fee paid to – then – Serie B outfit Palermo.
A memorable event for the King at Madinat Jumeirah was added to when Abdulaziz Al Anbari was named ‘The Leader – Best Coach’ and Adel Al Hosani selected as ‘Golden Glove – Best Goalkeeper’. Elsewhere, Al Jazira conductor Khalfan Mubarak was chosen as ‘The Golden Ball – Best Emirati Player’ and Al Wasl prospect Ali Saleh took home the ‘Golden Boy – Best Young Player’ prize.
For Coronado, these achievements justify saying ‘arrivederci’ to the European game.
He said: “It was not easy. There was a lot of questions asked for me when I came here.
“Taking the league and have this [AGL Award] in my hand now… I think it answers all the questions, why was the reason I came here.
“Now, we just have to enjoy this moment.
“I am very happy to win this right now. I put in a lot of work during the year.”
Coronado has taken a long and winding route to the UAE.
A career that began with Milton Keynes Dons has also included stints in Switzerland with Grasshoppers’ reserves, a spell in the English seventh tier with Banbury United, breakthrough with Malta’s Floriana and then Serie C’s Trapani.
Could another move up the football food chain be in the reckoning? It didn’t sound like it in Dubai.
“Yes, yes yes,” Coronado replied when asked if he was staying. “I have three years [remaining on his contract] with Sharjah.”
The mastermind behind a golden 2018/19 was Al Anbari. The 41-year-old club stalwart’s efforts were exalted by Coronado.
“He was great, really good,” said the attacker. “Especially towards the end, I really appreciated how he dealt with the difficult situation.
“He was a great manager throughout the year – with the locals and the foreigners. Everyone was treated the same.
“It was really nice working with the coaching staff.”
Abdulaziz Al Anbari has declared the secret to Sharjah’s uplifting success was simple “teamwork” and hard graft after his role in engineering a shock Arabian Gulf League title win was recognised in the season-ending individual prizes.
Al Anbari, 41, ended a 23-year wait for the King to be crowned the UAE’s finest. This continued the club stalwart’s exemplary work after he took over a relegation-threatened squad, on a permanent basis, in October 2017.
The former midfielder’s guile in the dugout saw him, unsurprisingly, become the first Emirati winner of the ‘The Leader – Best Coach’ gong at Friday’s 2018/19 AGL Awards ceremony at Madinat Jumeirah. When quizzed about ‘the secret’ behind this charge, he replied: “Teamwork. We said to the players, if we want to fight with strong teams, we must be together, like a family, like a team.
“You cannot work as individual players. We started the camp like a team, started the league like a team and we finished like one.
“You see our goalkeeper the best, midfielder the best, everything. This vote for me is very important.
“We work hard for team work. It’s not easy to fight with strong teams who had more experience than us.”
The King have led from the off and only suffered their first loss last week, at Al Wasl. Their precipitous rise up the standings also guaranteed a berth in the 2020 AFC Champions League.
Al Anbari admitted he would spend the summer scouring the domestic market to bolster his trophy winning squad.
He said: “Now, will be very hard next season, with the AFC Champions League. We want more hard work next year, we need some local players.
“I hope we will find good local players to help. I know it will not be easy, but we will try our best.”
Sharjah finish off a triumphant campaign away at Emirates Club on Saturday.