x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Al Ahli enjoy victory lap during rout of Al Dhafra

Dubai club enjoys closing out 2013/14 campaign with 5-1 victory over Al Dhafra in front of their joyous fans and start to take aim at a possible fourth trophy in the President's Cup on Sunday, writes Ahmed Rizvi.

Al Ahli rolled past Al Dhafra on Sunday night to put the finishing touches on their Arabian Gulf League title. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Ahli rolled past Al Dhafra on Sunday night to put the finishing touches on their Arabian Gulf League title. Satish Kumar / The National

Al Ahli 5 Al Dhafra 1

Al Ahli Humaid Abbas 1’, Ahmed Khalil 9’, 85’ (pen), Hugo Viana 45’, Luis Jimenez 90’

Al Dhafra Kamel Chafni 51’

Red card Makhete Diop 88’ (Al Dhafra)

Man of the Match Ciel (Al Ahli)

As Faisal Abdullah sat on his wheelchair, waiting for the game to start, you could sense the pride as he looked around the Rashid Stadium.

Helper in tow, he was present for every game Al Ahli played at home this season, but this coronation night was special.

“I have been waiting for this moment,” he said, thumping the crest on his red Ahli jersey.

Read more: Five things we learnt from this season in Arabian Gulf League

Three other Ahli fans in wheelchairs were sitting around him and they all shared the excitement, discussing their football animatedly, not too bothered about the sweat pouring down the sides of their faces on a particularly muggy evening.

Ahmed Umar sat next to him. A few minutes earlier, a lady, probably his mother, pushed his wheelchair through the entrance to the stands, under a giant wooden arc announcing Ahli as the 2013/14 Arabian Gulf League champions.

Before the start, Grafite and Luis Jimenez, who were kept on the bench when the game began, paid them a visit and posed for photographs, but Abdullah would have preferred Ciel.

“He is my favourite player,” he said. “Of course, I come to support Al Ahli, but I love watching Ciel play.”

Abdullah would have been thrilled when, in the opening minute of the match, Ciel raced down with the ball from kick off and crossed for Humaid Abbas to slot home. The laser and fireworks show could wait, the players had already started the party with a goal after just 22 seconds. The four in wheelchairs could be seen pumping their fists excitedly.

Eight minutes later, Abdullah had more reason to celebrate as Ciel helped script Ahli’s second goal of the night, crossing for Ahmed Khalil to tap home this time. In the dying seconds of the first half, Hugo Viana made it 3-0 with a curling free kick.

The match, however, was just a distraction, a formality. Abdullah and the thousands of other fans in the stadium were waiting for the final whistle, so that the party could start. Five minutes before that, though, they had the opportunity to celebrate Ahli’s fourth goal. Khalil slotted home from the penalty spot after Jimenez was dragged down by Abdullah Al Naqbi.

But that was not the end – Jimenez added the fifth in the final minute with a scorching right-footer from the edge of the box to make it 5-1. That was the cue for the fans and, as the referee blew his final whistle, the stands turned into a sea of swirling red scarves.

As workers set up the stage in the middle and laid out the red carpet and the fireworks, the massive loudspeakers were put to use and fans could feel the stands shaking. A bit later, the floodlights were switched off and a spectacular laser and fireworks show followed.

The players and team officials were then ushered in, and as they stood on either side of the red carpet, taking selfies on their phones, the chief guest of the night, Sheikh Maktoum bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, walked out to hand over the medals and the Arabian Gulf League shield to the champions.

“We are really happy to finally get our hands on the shield,” said Grafite, the Ahli striker and captain. “We have made one great season and we deserved to win the title.”

The win helped Ahli finish with 64 points, a record for a single season. Al Ain were the previous holders with 62 points last season. With their 20th league win, Cosmin Olaroiu’s men also equalled the record for most victories in a season, joining Al Ain (2012/13) and Al Wahda (2004/05) at the top of that list.

A bigger record, however, lies ahead.

Ahli meet Al Ain in the final of the President’s Cup on Sunday, and if they win that, they will become the first team to win all four domestic contests – the Super Cup, the league title and league cup, and the President’s Cup.

“That is our target,” Grafite said. “So the job is not done yet. We still have one very big match and we hope we will be able to win that as well.”

arizvi@thenational.ae

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