Abu Dhabi: A solitary goal by Argentine Sebastian Tagliabue, three minutes from time, saw Al Wahda win their last Arabian Gulf League fixture against Al Ain and confirm their qualification to the 2019/2020 AFC Champions League.
Al Ain, despite the loss had Al Jazira to thank for their Champions League berth as a shock defeat at the hands of eight-placed Al Nasr saw them slip to the fifth spot.
With Al Wahda finishing third in the standings behind winners Sharjah and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai, they have directly qualified for the continental competition. Fourth-placed Al Ain will have to come through a qualifying.
After a goalless first half, the Boss were reduced to 10-men in the 63rd minute.
However, the purple brigade kept themselves in the game thanks to some solid defending. Just as the match seemed like heading towards a draw, Tagliabue rose to the occasion and fired in the match-winner to confirm his side’s berth in the continental showpiece for the 2019-2020 season.
Al Wahda are on a roll in this season’s AFC Champions League, having qualified for the round of 16 after finishing at the top from their group.
The victory was a huge shot in the arm of their Dutch coach Henk ten Cate, who has already announced he will be leaving the club after this contest.
With the Champions League campaign still ongoing, the team’s think tank will be desperately looking for a suitable replacement to keep their winning momentum going.
Ten Cate, who took over Al Wahda midway through last season, has expressed that he is not keen on continuing with the club as he wants to spend time with his family.
However, following yesterday’s triumph he was singing a different tune saying he was scheduled for a meeting with the club management.
“The door is still a bit open,” he said. “Certainly, if it happens, it will not have anything to do with money. It will be because the unit is so committed. My two assistants have all done a great job together and we have made a strong team for the next stage,”
Ten Cate was also all praise for Tagliabue for his showing throughout the season.
“It has been a great season for him and he has been the saviour for the team today as well,” said the coach. “To finish as the top scorer of the tournament (27 goals), it is a great achievement.”
Meanwhile, Al Jazira will be hugely disappointed with their showing as they lost their crucial last match against Al Nasr 3-1.
Alvaro Negredo opened the scoring in the 38th minute and Tareq Ahmed doubled the lead in eight minutes after the change of ends. Ronnie Fernandez scored from the spot in the 66th minute to make it 3-0 before Ali Mabkhout scored the consolation goal for the Pride of Abu Dhabi, two minutes from time.
It is also learnt that UAE Football Association will be taking a close look at events in the last outing between Shabab Al Ahli and Fujairah.
The only way Fujairah could have avoided relegation was by winning the contest against their much-fancied rivals. The 3-1 loss raised a lot of eyebrows.
Emirates Club and Dibba are the team that have been relegated following their loss in their final outings.
POS TEAM P W D L PTS
1 Sharjah 26 17 8 1 59
2 Shabab Al Ahli 26 17 2 7 53
3 Al Wahda 26 14 4 8 46
4 Al Ain 26 14 4 8 46
5 Al Jazira 26 13 6 7 45
6 Bani Yas 26 11 7 8 40
7 Ajman 26 10 7 9 37
8 Al Nasr 26 10 6 10 36
9 Al Wasl 26 10 4 12 34
10 Al Dhafra 26 8 5 13 29
11 Kalba 26 5 10 11 25
12 Fujairah 26 5 6 15 21
13 Emirates 26 4 6 16 18
14 Dibba 26 4 5 17 17