x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Al Ahli clinch Arabian Gulf League title with win over Al Wasl

Ahmed Khalil and Grafite combined for two goals within three minutes to lead Al Ahli to a 2-1 victory over Al Wasl and with the win, the Dubai club clinches the league title after recording their 18th win of the season.

Al Wasl's Juan Culio, left, tries to steal the ball from Al Ahli's  Ismaeel Al Hamadi during their Arabian Gulf League match on Thursday in Duabi. With the 2-1 victory, Al Ahli clinched the AGL title. Sarah Dea / The National
Al Wasl's Juan Culio, left, tries to steal the ball from Al Ahli's Ismaeel Al Hamadi during their Arabian Gulf League match on Thursday in Duabi. With the 2-1 victory, Al Ahli clinched the AGL title. Sarah Dea / The National

Al Ahli 2 Al Wasl 1

Al Ahli Khalil 55’, Grafite 58’

Al Wasl Oliveira 6’

Man of the match Hugo Viana (Al Ahli)

DUBAI // For a while it looked like lightning would strike a second time and the thousands of Al Ahli fans who had come to the Rashid Stadium to celebrate the confirmation of their sixth league title would return home disappointed.

Al Wasl, the only team to defeat Ahli on the pitch in the league this season, took a surprise lead in the fifth minute when Ricardo Oliveira curled in a free kick to stun the home fans.

Ahli made little impression during the first half, despite Grafite coming off the bench in the 21st minute to replace a limping Salmeen Khamis, who had conceded the free kick that gave Wasl the lead.

Cosmin Olaroiu, who has now won three consecutive UAE league titles after back-to-back triumphs with Al Ain in the previous two seasons, made another change at the break, replacing the ineffective Adnan Hussain with Majed Hassan, and Ahli’s tempo changed completely.

Ahli got the equaliser in the 55th minute when Ismail Al Hammadi found Ahmed Khalil with a deft pass to his left. The UAE striker took his time before curling the ball into the far corner.

Three minutes later, Grafite added the second, chasing down Hugo Viana’s long ball and placing it past the charging Wasl goalkeeper. The galleries erupted with joy. They would not have liked to wait 17 more days – when Ahli visit Al Shabab – to celebrate their success. Or worse, they could have been confirmed as champions today if Shabab lost at Al Nasr. That would have been an anticlimax.

“We are very happy after one very difficult season,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant coach. “We have achieved our main target. If you remember all the problems we have had – we have had injuries and the coach was suspended.

“But we showed we are the best team this year and I congratulate the players for what they have done till now.”

The win keeps Ahli on course for an unprecedented domestic treble this season. They meet Al Jazira in the Arabian League Cup final on April 19 and then clash with Al Ain for the President’s Cup crown. They will also be looking to qualify for the second round of the Asian Champions League over the next two weeks, with an important away game against Saudi Arabia club Al Hilal on Tuesday.

“We have finished with the league now, but we have not finished the season,” Raducan said. “We can make a good season, or we can make a fantastic season. Of course, this moment belongs to the players and they can celebrate now, but from tomorrow they need to be back at work for a very difficult game against Al Hilal.

“What we have done till now is not enough and the season is not finished. The season will be finished after the final of the President’s Cup. Until that game, we have a lot of things to do together and that is what the coach [Olaroiu] told the players just now.

“The players are happy and they deserve to be happy, but they should remember that the season is not finished. In the first half, we saw what can happen if we are not focused. Football can come back to punish you.”

Emirates 3 Al Jazira 2

Emirates put a huge dent in Al Jazira’s hopes of a second-place finish. The visitors took the lead through a Sultan Bargash free kick, before Khaled Shamareikh levelled.

The hosts went ahead through Jamal Maroof and Luiz Henrique grabbed a third. Abdelaziz Barrada scored a consolation from the spot.

Al Shaab 0 Al Ain 5

Al Ain put on a five-star show to end Al Shaab’s stay in the Arabian Gulf League, with the visitors triumphing 5-0.

A hat-trick from Asamoah Gyan supplemented goals from Mohamed Abdulrahman and Ryan Yaslam as Al Shaab were relegated after Emirates’ victory against Al Jazira.

arizvi@thenational.ae

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