x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Grafite is the key to second place in the Pro League for Al Ahli

With Grafite, the 19-goal Brazilian striker, set to return from his six-match ban in the next round, Quique Sanchez Flores' Al Ahli might have the edge.

Al Ahli's Grafite will return from a six-match ban.
Al Ahli's Grafite will return from a six-match ban.

The Al Jazira coach Paulo Bonamigo is bullish about his team's chances of catching Al Ain and clinching the Pro League title.

The chances of that happening seem remote. Al Ain enjoy a nine-point lead and Bonamigo might eventually realise second place is a more realistic target. And even that might not be an easy task.

There are five teams in contention - Jazira (31), Baniyas (28), Al Ahli (27), Al Nasr (25) and Al Shabab (23). At stake is a place in the 2014 Asian Champions League.

Wahda, Shabab and Ahli can gain direct entry if they win the President's Cup. But if Al Ain finish with a league and cup double, then the Pro League runners-up will get a direct ticket to the Champions League, given that the UAE retains the same number of spots as this year.

The third- and fourth-placed teams can qualify for the group stages through the play-offs.

Jazira are one of only two teams (Ahli the other) who have taken points off Al Ain this season and their 16-match unbeaten streak, which ended in the President's Cup on Sunday, suggests Bonamigo has the squad to take second. Ahli and Baniyas, however, seem to be better-placed.

Unlike Jazira, or Nasr and Shabab, they will not have the distraction of the Champions League, and both teams made important transfer additions.

Baniyas added seasoned campaigners Mohammed Aboutrika and Christian Wilhelmsson, while Ahli have signed Portuguese ace Ricardo Quaresma.

But with Grafite, the 19-goal Brazilian striker, set to return from his six-match ban in the next round, Quique Sanchez Flores' men might have the edge.