Eliminated and deflated Al Ain intend to make “a good impression” when they wind up their 2019 AFC Champions League commitments in Monday’s dead rubber against Iran’s Esteghlal.
A miserable contest awaits at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Both sides have conceded their domestic titles in recent weeks, plus cannot proceed from Group C’s final round in the continental competition.
For the hosts, this is the first time they’ve failed to advance into the knockouts in six years. Coach Juan Carlos Garrido, however, insisted there was still something to play for during their last run-out of an unfulfilling campaign.
“Despite the fact that the team is out of the competition as one of two qualifiers for the round of 16, it is a good opportunity for some to leave a good impression,” said the ex-Villarreal tactician, whose short-term deal in the Garden City imminently expires.
“We are required to show fighting spirit and achieve a strong result at the end of our Asian games.
“The truth is that our next game is very important for the reasons I have mentioned before, so we will work to show our best. We will adopt the best methods to appear well at the end of our Champions League matches.”
The sides played out a 1-1 draw in Tehran during March, meaning victory on home soil for the beaten 2016 finalists will at least save them the indignity of finishing last.
There is also a familiar face in the Esteghlal ranks, which will painfully remind Al Ain of better times. Coach Farhad Majidi played an influential role in the Boss’ 2002/03 ACL success, scoring in the semi-finals against China’s Dalian Shide en route to glory.
Al Ain’s current No9, Marcus Berg, has not been able to deliver such joy in a poor second season. The out-of-sorts Sweden marksman has notched just once in his last 19 matches for club and country.
“Every team is looking forward to the three points, especially for us, because we are going to play the last game at home,” said Berg, who is expected to be replaced by Al Taawoun’s Leandre Tawamba in the summer. “We would like to leave a good impression with the conclusion of our matches at home and we will work to appear in a dignified way.”
Al Ain travel to Al Wahda on Saturday for their final top-flight fixture. Victory will salvage 2020 ACL qualification from a sorry season.
Al Ain have identified King’s Cup winning Al Taawoun coach Pedro Emanuel as the man to revitalise the UAE’s most-decorated club and have made an offer worth more than €5 million to land him, according to reports.
Emanuel, 44, was crowned the Saudi Professional League’s Coach of the Year on Saturday night after an incredible debut campaign that included a remarkable third-placed finish and gaining of the grandest prize in his employer’s 63-year history. Such exploits have gone unnoticed, elsewhere.
O Jogo has stated the 2003/04 UEFA Champions League winner with Porto has informed Taawoun he will not extend a one-year contract that expires next month. Al Ain have proposed a deal worth €5.3m for two seasons that the ex-defender is seriously considering.
The Boss have imploded in the second half of 2018/19, ceding their Arabian Gulf League crown to Sharjah and looking destined to finish a distant third. Ex-Villarreal tactician Juan Carlos Garrido has endured mixed results since he replaced Al Hilal defector Zoran Mamic in January and is not expected to stay beyond next Saturday’s final match at Al Wahda.
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.