x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Yasser Al Qahtani's double powers Al Ain to Pro League title

The Saudi striker delight a packed stadium as the Cosmin Olaroiu's side beat the champions, Al Jazira, 2-0.

Dawoud Sulaiman, the Al Ain goalkeeper, in action against Al Jazira during their Pro League game. Mike Young / The National
Dawoud Sulaiman, the Al Ain goalkeeper, in action against Al Jazira during their Pro League game. Mike Young / The National

AL AIN // Champions of the UAE again, and with ease, Al Ain may now need taller mountains to climb.

They ruled Asia once before. Could they again?

The club's surge to their record 10th domestic league championship was duly completed last night.

Yasser Al Qahtani, the Saudi striker, scored twice and the hosts swallowed up Al Jazira's league-best attack in an emphatic 2-0 triumph before a full house at the Tahnoun bin Mohammed Stadium.

Al Ain thus secured the league title for the first time since 2004, and with three rounds to spare, just as Jazira did a year ago.

If anything, the Garden City club have been the more impressive. Jazira overwhelmed opponents with their attack last season but, then as now, could be broken down; Al Ain have been equally adept at both ends of the field.

They have Asamoah Gyan and Al Qahtani in the attack, but a big and athletic back four has conceded only 14 goals in 19 matches, and the clean sheet was their ninth of the campaign.

The link between defence and attack again was Helal Saeed, the 34-year-old Al Ain midfielder who won the league title with Jazira last year.

This season, he returned to Abu Dhabi's second city, and he has been the unsung hero on a side who boast Gyan, Al Qahtani, Ignacio Scocco, Mirel Radoi and Omar Abdulrahman.

Saeed again showed his uncanny ability to blunt every attack and lead every counter. His passes led to both Al Ain goals, the first touch going to Gyan and the last to Al Qahtani.

By winning the league title, Al Ain are assured a place in the 2013 Asian Champions League, which they won in 2003, during the days of their pomp.

If Jazira are good enough to have already qualified for the knockout phase of the current continental tournament, what might this Al Ain team do next year?

The question on the lips of Al Ain's legion of supporters will be this: how much of this club will remain, a year from now?

Gyan's status must be clarified, and probably in the coming week. He currently is on loan from Sunderland, the English Premier League side, and Al Ain could buy the Ghana international, if the money is right.

What of Al Qahtani and Scocco and Radoi? Will suitors come calling for Emirati standouts such as Abdulrahman and Ismail Ahmed?

The assumption at Al Ain is that Cosmin Olaroiu, the Romanian coach and architect of the overpowering campaign, will return. His contract has been described as "more than two years" and he is finishing his first.

Before the match, he spoke of how Al Ain had focused all their energies on returning to preeminence in the league.

"Al Jazira targeted the President's Cup from the beginning of the season and they hit their target," he said. "We at Al Ain have reached our target, step by step."

When the whistle blew, Al Ain fans began a celebration that came much later than they would have anticipated, back in 2004, when they won the league for the fifth time in seven years.

A club that was at risk of relegation a year ago have returned to the pinnacle of the league.