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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 25 June 2018

Diego Maradona and Fujairah face play-off for promotion to the Arabian Gulf League

  • Draw with Khorfakkan on final day of First Division season means they miss out on automatic promotion
  • Finish the season in third place, behind Baniyas and Ittihad Kalba, despite finishing campaign unbeaten
  • Now face two-legged tie with Hatta on May 9 and 13 to try and win spot in UAE's top flight
Fujairah coach Diego Maradona comforts one of his distraught players after they missed out on automatic promotion to the Arabian Gulf League. Victor Besa / The National
Fujairah coach Diego Maradona comforts one of his distraught players after they missed out on automatic promotion to the Arabian Gulf League. Victor Besa / The National

Diego Maradona will have to wait a little longer for the chance to lead Fujairah into the Arabian Gulf League after his side were held 1-1 at home in their First Division finale on Friday.

The east-coast club, needing victory to guarantee their ascension, had looked set to finish second in the table when Fahad Sabeel gave them the lead from the penalty spot just before the hour at Fujairah Stadium.

However, a mistake three minutes later from goalkeeper Saeed Sadiq gifted Khorfakkan a point.

Fujairah’s result, coupled with Ittihad Kalba’s 2-0 win against Al Uroob, consigned Maradona’s men to third place, meaning they will have to successfully negotiate a play-off with top-flight side Hatta to seal promotion.

Appointed last May on an initial one-year deal, Maradona’s future at the club is largely accepted to be dependent on guiding Fujairah to promotion. They last competed in the AGL during the 2015/16 campaign.

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Given what was at stake on Friday, the first half was an understandably cagey affair and short on genuine goalscoring opportunities. Fujairah midfielder Mohammed Khalfan had the best of the chances, heading off-target from a corner moments before half time. It took until the 56th minute for Fujairah to draw the first real save from Abdulkarim, when Fahad Sabeel let fly from all of 35 yards.

Within two minutes, he had found the net. Essa Mohammed was deemed to have landed an elbow on Omar Kossoko just inside the Khorfakkan penalty area and Sabeel, impressive throughout, kept his cool to put the hosts one up. Maradona did not watch the spot-kick, having retreated down the tunnel before it was taken.

He returned to see Fujairah’s lead last all of three minutes. Making up for his earlier error, Essa Mohammed struck a speculative free-kick from 40 yards, which deflected off teammates Mohammed Ali en route to the Fujairah goal and squirmed somehow through Sadiq’s gloves. The ex-Khorfakkan goalkeeper had provided his former employers a point.

Eight minutes from time, Khorfakkan were reduced to 10 men following Omar Jowher’s lunge on substitute Mohanad Khamis. The away side stood strong, though, and repelled Fujairah’s final opportunity when striker Danilo had a header cleared off the line.

Fujairah will now play Hatta, the AGL’s bottom club, in a two-legged contest on May 9 and May 13.