Abu Dhabi: Sharjah’s shrewd tactician Abdul Aziz Al Anbari, who took over the reins from Portuguese coach Jose Peseiro in October 2017, not only ended The King’s 23-year-old title drought but also etched a new path for homebred coaches.
In front of a packed house at the Khalid Bin Mohammad Stadium on Wednesday, Sharjah brushed aside the challenge from a formidable Al Wahda 3-2 to get their hands on the trophy.
“I love Sharjah because it introduced me to the sport and allowed me to glow through them as a player. So, I did not hesitate to take over as I had done so in 2015-16 season as well. The challenge at the beginning was like a long journey in the house where I grew up and learned the crafts of the game,” said a beaming Al Anbari adding that the title was the most important dream he has achieved as a player and as a coach.
“This is like a dream that has turned into reality. We have been together in the past and standing behind us were strong supporters. Many thanks to His Highness Shaikh Dr. Sultan Bin Mohammad Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Sharjah, for his support,” revealed Al Anbari, emphasising it was tough as the foreign players left without completing their contacts.
“The management and the players managed to stick together at critical times. In two years, nine foreigners were changed and that was hurting the team badly when I took over.”
Sharjah was well on course to clinch the title early as they led by 11 points at one stage. However, a sudden winless run, including their first loss in the last outing against Al Wasl put them in a spot of bother going into the clash against Al Wahda.
“The last match loss against Al Wasl hurt us but we didn’t put our head down. We played this match with our heads held high. Everybody worked together and I’m really happy that I managed to contribute to the cause,” said an elated Sharjah midfielder Igor Coronado, who fired a brace on the night.
Sharjah’s Uzbek midfielder Otabek Shukurov tweeted: “When the last time @SharjahFC won the UAE League, I wasn’t born! After we won the league today, I felt like a newborn child! It was unbelievable! Still it is. It was amazing! Still it is. Alhamdulillah Ala Kulli Haal! Thank you, all Supporters, all Sharjawi, all my Team!”
There is still plenty to play for as top three teams qualify directly for the AFC Champions League while the fourth team comes through a qualifying round.
Meanwhile, Al Jazira — on the lookout to seal the third spot — suffered a huge setback after they were held to a 1-1 draw by Al Dhafra at Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium.
It was a three-way battle between Jazira, Al Ain and Al Wahda to stake claim for the third spot going into the round of 25. With Al Jazira being held, Al Ain now occupy the No. 3 spot. The Boss thrashed Al Wasl 5-1 at Hazza Bin Zayed stadium and now have 46 points, one more than Jazira.
With the result being crucial for the direct qualification for the Champions League, Al Jazira head coach Damien Hertog was clearly disappointed with his side’s showing.
“The players wanted to win the game for the fans and created a lot of chances. We had a very good first half and I think we should have scored atleast two goals. I think a combination of our mistakes and bad luck led to us not scoring a second goal and killed the game,” said Hertog.