x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Al Wahda close to the title, but coach cautious

Wahda are five points ahead of Jazira with three games left and their supporters do not think they can lose from such a position.

Ismail Matar, No 10, celebrates scoring in Al Wahda's victory over Emirate last  weekend.
Ismail Matar, No 10, celebrates scoring in Al Wahda's victory over Emirate last weekend.

ABU DHABI // Al Wahda supporters already think they have the Pro League title in the bag, and they could have by the end of tonight's games. As Wahda travel to their Abu Dhabi rivals Baniyas tonight, their fans will also be paying close attention to the game in Dubai between Al Ahli, last year's winners, and Al Jazira, their closest challengers for the title. All of tonight's six Pro League games start at 7.35pm.

"We are ready to celebrate after the Baniyas game. It can be tonight or next week, but we are prepared any day from now," said Ahmed Khalfan, a young Wahda fan, who has already decorated his four-wheel drive in anticipation. Wahda are five points ahead of Jazira with three games left and their supporters do not think they can lose from such a position. Confidence is also high in the camp with the return of Fernando Baiano, the Brazilian striker and top scorer, after a three-match suspension for an altercation with the referee in a league match against Al Dhafra last month.

Also returning after injuries are Hassan Mudhafar, the Oman international midfielder, and Hamdan al Kamali, the club's highly-rated central defender and captain of the UAE team at the Under 20 World Cup last year. "This is the strongest line-up we have had in more than two months after the team was plagued by injuries and suspensions," said Josef Hickersberger, Wahda's Austrian coach. "Mahmoud Khamis [midfielder] has three bookings and misses this game, but it's absolutely the strongest available squad to choose the team."

Hickersberger was a bit more cautious than the fans and believes the team will have to win the next two games before being declared the league champions. "I don't expect Jazira to lose any of their remaining games and that leaves us needing six points from a possible nine. Obviously we expect to win over Baniyas and not really worry what happens in the other game." Wahda have beaten Baniyas twice in the season, a 4-0 thrashing in the President's Cup followed by a 1-0 home win in the league.

The pressure certainly will be on Jazira and Abel Braga, their coach, said anything but a win over Al Ahli will end their slim title hopes. "This game is the most critical for us to carry on with whatever little hopes we have in the league," said the Brazilian. "Ahli are in mid table and will have no pressure in their game plan. It is a difficult game for us but we will try to win and prolong the league as long as we can."

It is also a crucial day for Emirate, the President's Cup winners, who will be relegated if they lose away to Al Ain at the Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium and Al Nasr win against Al Shabab at Dubai's Al Maktoum Stadium. Al Dhafra face Sharjah and Al Wasl travel to Ajman, who are already relegated, in the other fixtures. apassela@thenational.ae Baniyas v Al Wahda, Abu Dhabi Sports 1 and Al Ahli v Al Jazira, Abu Dhabi Sports 2, both at 7.35pm