Abu Dhabi: The Arabian Gulf League (AGL) is heading for an exciting finish with leaders Sharjah faltering in the final stretch.
The King were handed their first defeat last week by Al Wasl and now face an uphill task when they host a resurgent Al Wahda in the penultimate round on Wednesday at the Khaled Bin Mohammad Stadium. The action starts at 10pm.
Sharjah, who had a lead of 11 points at one stage, have seen their advantage whittled down to just three points by second-placed Shabab Al Ahli Dubai.
If you have to be the best team then you have to beat everybody.
With the third-place battle evenly poised between three sides — Al Jazira, Al Ain and Al Wahda — the fight for a direct spot in the AFC Asian Champions League is a big motivation for the Clarets going into the clash.
Al Wahda are building on their phenomenal run of form in the Champions League which has seen them qualify for the knockout stages. If they manage to overpower Sharjah, the latter will have to win the last contest against lowly placed Emirates. In last six games, Sharjah have collected just seven points.
“If you have to be the best team then you have to beat everybody,” said Al Wahda coach Henk ten Cate. “So far we have beaten some of the best teams. It is now for us to beat No 1 (Sharjah). We are ready for the challenge and we have almost all the players fit.”
We always play as a team and that is why I’m optimistic about the ability of achieving what we want from this difficult encounter.
Sharjah coach Abdul Aziz Al Anbari, speaking about his team’s chances, said: “We are well prepared for this game as we lost against Al Wasl in the last outing. We have two important games ahead and our focus is on achieving positive results.
“We need to focus on the match as a unit and especially against Al Wahda as they have shown excellent levels in the second round and is one of the best teams in recent matches.”
Sharjah will be missing the services of Otabek Shukurov, defenders Ahmad Alzari and Shaheen Abdelrahman along with midfielder Majid Surour.
“We always play as a team and that is why I’m optimistic about the ability of achieving what we want from this difficult encounter. I expect everyone to be positive about the team. I mean the fans and the people around the team,” added Al Anbari.
Meanwhile, Al Jazira coach Damien Hertog has urged his team put up a great show for their fans in their last home outing of the season against Al Dhafra. A win will help them maintain their third-place position in the league and enhance their chances of qualifying for the Champions League.
“It’s important for everyone in the team to give their best display for the fans and finish the last home match in style. It’s not just three points that we want but making our fans proud by playing excellent football, creating chances and scoring goals for them,” said Hertog.
“We have scored the most goals this season and that says something about us as we like to play attacking football. The fans enjoy the way we play and we want to combine this by getting a victory.
“We know three points will boost our chances of qualifying for the Champions League. That is still in our own hands and we will give our best to maintain our position.”
Al Ain will also be taking on Al Wasl in another crucial contest in the former’s fight for third place.
Al Ain coach Juan Carlos Garrido vowed that his side will settle for nothing less than a win.
“We are required to provide the best in order to achieve our goal and get those three important points,” he said. “I will be playing the best available squad as it is an important contest.
“Last games saw some defensive mistakes so we need to focus a lot from the start. We also will have to make sure that we don’t miss those opportunities that we get in front of the opposition goal.”
AGL standings: Top of the table
TEAM P W D L GD PTS
Sharjah 24 15 8 1 25 53
Shabab 24 16 2 6 20 50
Al Jazira 24 13 5 6 27 44
Al Ain 24 13 4 7 7 43
Al Wahda 24 13 4 7 23 43
Fixtures: All matches 10pm
Al Ain v Al Wasl
Sharjah v Al Wahda
Al Jazira v Al Dhafra
Shabab v Bani Yas
Al Ittihad Kalba v Dibba
Ajman v Emirates
Fujairah v Al Nasr