x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Kings of the Pro League

Al Ahli win the inaugural Pro League title and gain entry to the Club World Cup with a final day 3-1 win over Al Shabab.

The Al Ahli players run to celebrate with their fans after the final whistle confirmed they had won the Pro League.
The Al Ahli players run to celebrate with their fans after the final whistle confirmed they had won the Pro League.

DUBAI // As referee Ali Hamad blew his final whistle of the season, Al Ahli coach Ivan Hasek, normally an iceman in the dugout, jumped into the arms of his assistant like a teenager before being swamped by everyone around him. His players sank to their knees, as their labour of the past 10 months bore the ultimate fruit: the first Pro League title. There was mayhem in the packed stands too as Ahli fans, who had assembled three hours before kick-off, exploded with joy.

Ahli needing a win at Al Shabab to clinch the title, and the right to represent hosts UAE in December's Fifa Club World Cup, did it with style, cruising to a comfortable 3-1 triumph. This was Ahli's fifth UAE league title, the last came in 2006, and many of the players and fans could not hold back their tears, overcome with emotions. They had to wait until the final round of the league for their crown but, as coach Hasek kept repeating, they kept their fate in their own hands.

"From the first moment I came here, it was to win," said the jubilant Czech coach after the final whistle, "not for second place. "It was not easy, Jazira were very good, Al Ain also. The players have been excellent all season, and the Club World Cup was a big motivation. Now we have more work to do for the future." As their date with destiny arrived, the party started early for Ahli. Just seven minutes into game, Egyptian maestro Hosny Abd Rabo put them ahead, tapping home Faisal Khalil's pass. Three minutes later, Bare, like a raging bull, barged his way past two defenders and unleashed a scorcher from the edge of the box, which left keeper Salem Abdullah stranded to make it 2-0.

The fans were, however, stunned into silence in the 36th minute when Marcos Assuncao's free-kick was sliced into his own net by Khalil but Ali Abbas brought them back into party mode with a stunning free-kick in added time of the first-half. It was a thoroughly convincing performance from Ahli, deserving of a league finale. Shabab's Issa Obaid hit the woodwork in the 73rd minute, but the celebrating Ahli fans barely noticed it. The three goals in the first session had wrapped up the game for the visitors and Ahli fans kept the party going through the second half and long into the night.

Quizzed on his future, Hasek said: "Let's not speak about that now." After this hair-raising season, Ahli's fans will be hoping their bald coach sticks around. arizvi@thenational.ae