Al Ain celebrate title in carnival style

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Al Ain were crowned AGL champions for third time in four years.

A magnificent 60-point haul, just two Arabian Gulf League losses, the meanest defence, joint-most lethal attack, largest number of wins and an imposing goal difference of +43.

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There can be no doubt, Al Ain deserved their long-awaited coronation. Explosions of fire and smoke erupted when veteran defensive midfielder Helal Saeed picked up the UAE’s premier prize after a 1-1 gala final-round draw against Sharjah.

The champions’ success came not from moments such as this dead-rubber stalemate, 17-goal front man Wanderley’s snapped finish for the visitors levelling after Mohamed Abdulrahman opened the scoring on 60 minutes after quick feet were followed by a decisive low finish.

Instead, it came from the attacking midfielder’s similar effort in another narrow 1-0 triumph at Al Wasl, the resounding 4-0 dismantling of Al Wahda that ended the Clarets’ 20-match top-flight unbeaten run and when a heavily-depleted side held on for a 1-1 draw at then-reigning champions Al Ahli.

Those battles were when the medals, celebrated so joyously, were gained with three games to spare.

Even repeat absences for star pair Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman did not tell, seeing a 22nd AGL match from 26 registered in which they did not start together.

“Now it is official, we are champions,” coach Zlatko Dalic said. “I will not speak too much about the game, today is about a celebration.

 “A key game for us was against Al Wahda. Before this game, I told my players we would be champions if we won.

“Our main players missed a lot of games, but the full team showed character. They followed me and my strategy, I appreciate that.”

The only negative was that so few decided to witness the post-match sonorous drums, concussive fireworks, vibrant lights and parachuted entrance for the trophy in the flesh, a third-full Hazza bin Zayed Stadium playing host after the King agreed to give up their right to fulfil the fixture on home soil.

No-one has been able to hold a flame to Al Ain, long-term rivals Al Jazira wilting dramatically in the final weeks. A once-promising title battle was turned into a procession when Al Ain claimed 24 points from the last 30 available.

Thursday sees their President’s Cup defence begin with a trip to UAE Division 1 Group A champions, a competition Dalic is ready for.

He said: “Everyone expects more of us. Our next game is very soon in the President’s Cup, we have to forget the league and put our mind on that.”

Nothing was decided by this fixture against already-safe strugglers Sharjah. Yet, the Boss’ professional mentality which has carried them this far ensured they did not simply go through the motions.

Slovakia winger Miroslav Stoch thundered a low first-half effort against the post and Saeed neither wasted a pass or let a run go unchecked.

They appeared to be on course for a 19th win when Mohamed Abdulrahman bamboozled centre-back Mauricio Ramos by rolling the ball across his foot, before finding the bottom corner with his next motion. This did not countenance Wanderley’s acumen, a failure to clear allowing the Brazilian striker to lash in from six yards on 75 minutes.

A third AGL crown in four seasons makes this achievement seem normal. But this does a great disservice to coach Zlatko Dalic and his re-calibrated squad.

The Croatian inherited a glorious rabble upon arrival in March 2014, grandees slumming it down in eighth.

President’s Cup success was followed by the injections of youth, speed and drive in the summer market prior to a run to the AFC Champions League semi-finals.

The arrivals of Stoch and Lee Myung-joo plus recall of Jires Kembo Ekoko complimented the spine provided by UAE regular such as Mohanad Salem, Ismail Ahmed and Mohamed Ahmed.

All were together on the podium, all have played their part in a most-deserved charge to the title.

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