x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Wahda are Pro League champions

A hat-trick by Fernando Baiano seals a 3-0 win in Sharjah as the Abu Dhabi club pip city rivals Al Jazira to the UAE league title.

Fernando Baiano, Wahda's hat-trick hero, celebrates scoring his first to send the Abu Dhabi club on their way to the title.
Fernando Baiano, Wahda's hat-trick hero, celebrates scoring his first to send the Abu Dhabi club on their way to the title.

Al Wahda triumphed 3-0 at Sharjah last night to win the Pro League with a game to spare, and ended their five-year wait for the league title. Fernando Baiano starred with a hat-trick, giving Wahda the three points they needed to put the title beyond the reach of Al Jazira, who are five points behind with one game to play.

Wahda had last won the title in 2005 and this league conquest, their fourth overall, earns them the right to represent the UAE at the Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi in December. With 43 points from a possible 45 in their last 15 games, Wahda unseated Jazira from the top and managed to stay ahead of their Abu Dhabi rivals through the second half of the season. They kept their slate clean since suffering their second and last defeat in league play in November at Al Wasl. "The team really played like champions tonight," said Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach. "They deserved to win. But we still have one match to play, against Al Nasr at home.

"The players can celebrate for now, but I will remind them that there is still one match to play. We have won every game at home this season and we want to finish with a perfect record at our ground. So I want them to win the last match as well. It is something special to win all matches at home." Boasting a five-point cushion over Jazira coming into the game, Wahda made a determined start with Mohammed al Shehi making a couple of bristling runs down the right in the opening minutes and Baiano buzzing inside the box.

Ismail Matar also had a volley deflected away for a corner. All those moves came in the first four minutes, before Sharjah woke up and began to close down the spaces Wahda had been finding. Wahda had to work a bit harder thereafter, but the visitors were still dictating terms and almost found the opener in the 20th minute, when Baiano's header was tipped over by Rashid Ahmed, the Sharjah goalkeeper.

Al Shehi came dangerously close, too, in the 25th minute, but his diving header, following a searing run and cross by Mahmoud Khamis, missed the mark by a whisker. Five minutes later, though, the goal finally came. Another cross from Khamis found Baiano and the Brazilian marksman rose highest to head it home, bringing the thousands of travelling fans from Abu Dhabi to their feet. Baiano brought further joy with his second goal of the night, two minutes into the second period, as his curling free-kick wrong-footed Ahmed to find the net.

Thirteen minutes from the end the Brazilian, who played with Jazira last year after five seasons in the Spanish Primera Liga, completed his hat-trick with a dash through the defence and a calmly flicked finish. It was Baiano's 18th goal of the season and he celebrated with his teammates, knowing that the title was sewn up. arizvi@thenational.ae