Sharjah snatch draw against Al Ain to edge closer to Arabian Gulf League title
League leaders, unbeaten this season, have striker Welliton to thank as Brazilian seals point two minutes from time
Sharjah’s quest for a first league title in 23 years moved a little closer to completion on Wednesday night, when they salvaged a late 2-2 draw at home against champions Al Ain.
The Arabian Gulf League leaders, who remain unbeaten this season, had striker Welliton to thank at the Khaled bin Mohamed Stadium, with the Brazilian sealing a precious point two minutes from time.
As it stands, Sharjah climb 10 clear of second-placed Shabab Al Ahli with five rounds remaining. Rodolfo Arruabarrena's men had earlier lost 1-0 to Al Wahda.
An unfamiliar Al Ain had actually begun the brighter. After two heavy defeats on the bounce had effectively put an end to their title defence, manager Juan Carlos Garrido made a raft of changes, leaving senior players Marcus Berg and Caio in the Garden City.
Still Al Ain created the opening opportunity. On 13 minutes, Khalid Al Baloushi slid in Jamal Marouf, but Sharjah goalkeeper Adel Al Hosani was quick off his line to repel his shot. Not long after, Al Baloushi screwed wide an attempt of his own.
Then, the breakthrough. It was the hosts to strike first. Moments before the half hour, Igor Coronado dipped a free-kick over the Al Ain wall and beyond a despairing Khalid Essa in the away goal. Coronado’s effort may have nicked an opponent en route, but the Sharjah supporters did not care. The Brazilian playmaker, one of the stars in this steadily starry season, took off towards the home bench, soon swamped by teammates.
Sharjah almost doubled their lead five minutes later. This time, Coronado’s turned provider. Having skipped past a series of challenges, the midfielder floated a clever reverse pass over the Al Ain defence to the unmarked Mohammed Al Shehhi, only for his half-volley to be blocked brilliantly at close range by Essa.
Within two minutes, Essa's side were level. Bandar Al Ahbabi’s perfectly weighted pass released Marouf, who struck a low shot through Al Hosani’s legs to restore parity. Marouf celebrated in now-typical style, mimicking Cristiano Ronaldo, much to the delight of the Al Ain fans behind him, tucked away in the corner.
At the other end, on the stroke of half-time, Coronado stung Essa’s palms following a quick throw-in. On the other side of the break, Al Hosani saved well from Al Baloushi.
Soon after, Al Shehhi headed wide, somehow, following a short corner. In the 65th minute, Al Hosani again came to his team’s rescue, clawing away Marouf’s nearby header.
Seven minutes later, though, Al Ain restored their lead. Marouf was kicked from behind by opposing striker Welliton as he sought to clear and, once the Video Assistant Referee was consulted, Tsukasa Shiotani swept home the resultant penalty.
But Welliton atoned for his indiscretion. With only two minutes left on the clock, the powerful forward latched onto substitute Moatasim Yassin's pass and slotted underneath the advancing Essa. Sharjah's first top-flight title since 1995/96 creeps tantalisingly within view.
Updated: April 17, 2019 11:07 PM