Ahli require just one point to clinch a first UAE championship in five years. They should do that against Al Wasl on Thursday night, although the buoyant league leaders are urging caution, writes John McAuley.
Al Ahli’s Raducan gives AGL leaders a nudge
DUBAI // On the brink of securing the Arabian Gulf League, Al Ahli can on Thursday night take their first step in what promises to be a season of unprecedented success.
The Dubai club, 12 points clear at the summit with four matches remaining, entertain Al Wasl at the Rashid Stadium knowing a draw will render redundant the race for the championship. Share the spoils, or register an 18th victory of the campaign, and Ahli will seal a first top-flight title in five years.
It could mark the beginning of a substantially profitable period. Next week, Ahli will confirm their progression to the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League if they defeat Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal. Days later, they contest the Arabian Gulf Cup final against Al Jazira, before facing Al Ain in the President’s Cup showpiece in May.
These are heady times for Cosmin Olaroiu’s side but, for now, his assistant, Catalin Raducan, is urging their all-conquering charges to maintain focus.
“The players understand very well the importance of every game,” Raducan said. “Until now they’ve shown they have character, they have attitude and, for sure, whoever goes onto the pitch against Wasl will give 100 per cent for the game.
“We have had a very good year to now and have one more month to make it a fantastic year. The players are a little bit tired, but they can make this sacrifice for one month to push more and to give everything to finish the year very well.”
Concluding the title race is the priority and Ahli are expected to do so against a Wasl side who have struggled all season. Having dismissed as manager both Laurent Banide and Hector Cuper, the Zabeel Stadium club – now under the guidance of Saleem Abdelrahman – sit 11th in the standings. They have won once in 12 matches.
Ahli will not underestimate them, as the memory of December’s surprise 2-1 defeat, which is the only league loss Ahli have had on the pitch this season, still lingers.
Their other negative, against Al Dhafra, was handed out retrospectively when Ahli were found to have fielded an ineligible player. “Of course, this will be a difficult game,” Raducan said. “I don’t look to Wasl’s position in the league, but to the players they have. They have very good players, and we lost against them in the first part of the league.
“We have learnt our lesson and we take them very seriously. But we don’t talk about revenge. We made mistakes against them and it was one of the only games we did not treat very seriously, and we paid for it.”
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