Dubai: Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate said his side still have the ‘best chance’ of winning the Arabian Gulf League despite having their lead cut to six points with six games remaining on Saturday.
Second-placed Al Ahli rallied to win 2-1 at home to first-placed Al Jazira, with Salmeen Khamis and Everton Ribeiro cancelling out Ali Mabkhout’s 68th opener on 76 and 85 minutes.
“Losing one game doesn’t mean we will lose confidence,” said Ten Cate. “With 12 points we will win the league, so it is open, but we still have the best chance.”
Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu held back from saying his side could catch Al Jazira in the run-in, but let it be known who he thought were the better side.
“Al Jazira are a good team, but all our players proved that they are the best in the league, whether they win the league or not,” he said.
Al Jazira now face another top of the table clash at home to third-placed Al Ain on Wednesday.
Al Ain are one point behind Al Ahli, following their 2-0 win over ninth-placed Hatta on Saturday, courtesy of goals from Danilo Asprilla and Ebrahim Diaky on 27 and 83 minutes.
Al Jazira will look to survive that second test so as not to have their lead trimmed any further. If they do come out unscathed they face a relatively easy final five games; away to Dibba, at home to Al Shabab, away to Hatta, and at home to both Al Nasr and Al Dhafra.
Elsewhere, fourth-placed Al Wasl kept the pressure up on Al Ain, and dumped bottom-of-the-league Bani Yas deeper into the mire with a 4-3 win away to the strugglers on Friday. Al Wasl are level points with Al Ain but separated on goal difference as both sides fight for a top three finish thus Asian Champions League qualification.
Fifth-placed Al Wahda survived a similar scare 4-3 away to tenth-placed Kalba on Saturday.
Like sixth-placed Al Nasr, who beat Sharjah 1-0 at home on Friday, Al Wahda are ostensibly out of the race for a top three finish, but both sides could still qualify to the Asian Champions League by winning the President’s Cup, where they remain in the last four.
Al Wahda will play Sharjah and Al Nasr face Hatta in the semi-finals to be played on April 19 and 20, respectively.
Second-from-bottom Emirates lost 3-0 at home to seventh-placed Al Dhafra on Friday to plunge them deeper into relegation woes with Bani Yas. And third-from-bottom Dibba didn’t help matters for the bottom two by getting a 1-1 draw at home to eighth-placed Al Shabab on Saturday, to go level on points with Sharjah and Kalba.
Emirates are now five points off safety, and Bani Yas are six points deep, with six games remaining. Dibba, Sharjah and Kalba all face a nervous wait to confirm survival.