Abu Dhabi: Bani Yas coach Daniel Isaila has urged his men to focus on things that are in their control as they seek a maiden Arabian Gulf League title.
With the title to be decided on Tuesday night between Al Jazira and Bani Yas (all matches kick-off simultaneously at 10pm), there is a sort of tangibility to the nervousness permeating the air. It is all very tightly knit at the top, with just a point separating the sides going into the final round.
Al Jazira have a bit of leeway in that if they are held at home by Khor Fakkan and Bani Yas don’t take full points against visiting Al Wahda, the title is still theirs. A defeat though must be avoided at all costs, but the chances of that happening are pretty slim as they face a side that only just managed to drag themselves out of the relegation dogfight, which still involves Fujairah and Ajman, a couple of rounds ago.
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The proverbial ball remains in Bani Yas’ court. To keep their hopes alive, the Sky Blues must win and their Romanian manager Isaila has rightfully urged them to approach the game as a final. Al Wahda are eight-placed and their only drive here would be to gain momentum for their forthcoming AFC Champions League Round of 16 campaign.
They bounced back from two goals down to draw 2-2 with Al Nasr in their last league outing, while Bani Yas annihilated Al Dhafra 5-0 on the road, which helped maintain the one point deficit with Al Jazira, who were last seen beating Al Ain 2-0.
Bani Yas have made this a landmark season by their own standards when collecting their highest-ever points tally in the league and Isaila has already claimed his men have done him very proud. “We have had an excellent season, and I am completely satisfied with our performance and proud of my players even if we do not win the championship in the end,” he said.
Isaila’s men have already sealed their berth in next year’s Champions League, but as he seeks to end the season with a flourish, he wants Bani Yas to play their hearts out against Wahda, and keep their fingers crossed in the hope of a “miracle”.
“We will do our work in front of Al Wahda, which is seeking to win, and then we will wait for the Al Jazira match and Khor Fakkan,” he added. “I have always focused only on the results of my team so that we do not lose points, but we will see what happens on the day of the match, as miracles can happen in football.”
Despite just being a point ahead, the title is Al Jazira’s to lose and the two time winners will be hoping Abu Dhabi city rivals Wahda can take a bit of pressure off their shoulders by denying Bani Yas full points.
Facing Khor Fakkan at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium should be a walk in the park for Marcel Keizer’s men, who are aiming to win the title for the first time since the 2016-17 campaign.
The goals should come easy with the AGL’s leading scorer Ali Mabkhout spearheading the strike force. Playmaker Khalfan Mubarak adds creativity in a line-up that also stars Brandley Kuwas, Oumar Traore, Zayed Al Ameri, Abdullah Ramadan and goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, who performed marvellously when keeping Al Ain at bay the other night.
There’s plenty to fight for down the leaderboard as well with the Champions League qualifier spot yet to be decided. Defending champions Sharjah, Shabab Al Ahli and Al Nasr are locked in a three-way battle to finish third. Sharjah are currently third with 48 points, with the other two a further point adrift. Sharjah also have the relatively easier final-day assignment of a trip to seventh-placed Kalba, while Shabab Al Ahli and Al Nasr take on each other at the Maktoum Stadium in Dubai.
Hatta have already been relegated, and while Khor Fakkan did themselves a solid with a surprise 2-1 defeat of Al Wasl two rounds ago, a result that guaranteed them safety, Ajman and Fujairah remain in the fight to avoid the relegation spot that remains.
In a cruel twist of fate, the pair — locked at 15 points apiece — face each other in Fujairah, with Ajman needing to win or at least draw to keep their hopes alive. Fujairah have a game in hand and face Al Wahda in a one-off last match on 15 May. The earlier tie between the two had been postponed on account of Al Wahda having to undergo quarantine on account of having travelled to India for their Champions League assignment. A draw for Fujairah against Ajman will confirm their spot in next year’s AGL irrespective of the result against Wahda as it will move them ahead of the Orange brigade on goal difference.