DUBAI // Paulo Bonamigo, the Al Shabab coach, has turned his attention to the Etisalat Cup final after his side stretched their unbeaten run in the Pro League to eight games with a battling 1-1 home draw against Sharjah last night.
Shabab were a goal down in the 30th minute after Marcelo Olivera headed home for the visitors.
Julio Cesar's 66th minute equaliser, however, kept the home fans celebrating until the final whistle.
Shabab's next game is the Etisalat Cup final against Al Ain on Friday in Abu Dhabi and Bonamigo is confident his team can turn it on at the Al Jazira's Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium, despite a far from convincing performance last night.
"The team is ready for Al Ain," he said. "We did not perform to our expectations in this game, but every match is different. We will have a different opponent and they will be wanting to win the match as much as we do.
"Still, I believe we are emotionally ready and mentally prepared. The boys showed that tonight when they came back from a goal down. So we are prepared and want to win the title.
"You work hard through a season not just to play a final, but to win it and that will be our target."
Last night's draw allowed Shabab to stay in third spot with 28 points, while Sharjah are fifth with 23. Shabab's last defeat came in December at home against Al Jazira. They have won four and drawn four since.
"The group has played a lot of matches together," Bonamigo said. "Through time they have gained in experience and matured in tactical aspect and on the physical side. They understand each other better. So we have been improving with every game."
The 2008 champions, however, looked out of sorts last night. They created few opportunities as Sharjah packed the midfield to cut down on the space they allowed the home side.
As Shabab struggled, Marcelo thought he had put Sharjah ahead in the 16th minute. The goal, however, was disallowed as the linesman deemed the striker to be offside.
Manuel Cajuda, the Sharjah coach, thought otherwise and protested the decision for some time.
As the Portuguese coach gradually came to terms with the decision, Marcelo lifted his spirits with a brisk header in the 30th minute. The Brazilian leapt high over his marker to flick home Khamis Ahmed's cross from the left.
Cajuda waved his hands in a muted celebration before urging his players to keep going.
The coach got his wishes as Sharjah came in for the break with their lead intact.
Cesar came close to equalising in the 59th minute as he wove his way through the defence.
However, the Brazilian lost his footing as he closed in and shot tamely straight to the Sharjah keeper.
Shabab then came to life and Cesar eventually levelled the scores in the 66th minute after Carlos Villanueva had put him in the clear with a deft back-heel.
"We were expecting a difficult game," Bonamigo said.
"We played below expectation in the first half and lacked fighting spirit.
"We faced an opponent who respected us and had come with a good plan.
"We talked about it at half time and played a better game. We just lacked the finishing touch. If we could stay calm, we would have probably won the game."
Had Shabab shown better finishing and clinched all three points, they would have drawn level with Baniyas in second position in the table, on 30 points.
"We lost a big opportunity to catch up with Baniyas, but we will not give up," Bonamigo said.
"There is still a long way to go. Mathematically, we can still finish second and we will fight for it till the end."