Omantel Professional League: Fanja is champion
Fanja players receive the OPL shield from Sayyid Khalid al Busaidy, the Oman Football Association chairman, at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Sunday (Ahmed al Saidi/Muscat Daily)
One of the most dominating football clubs in Oman since the early seventies, Fanja once again re-established its superiority on Sunday night when it clinched the Omantel Professional League (OPL) title for the ninth time.
Playing its concluding match of the 2015-16 season at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex, Fanja cruised to a 2-0 win over second-placed Al Suwaiq to clinch the coveted crown and match the record of nine domestic titles held by Dhofar until now.
Fanja captain and national team defender Mohammed al Mussallami opened the scoring in the 24th minute with a looping, left-footed 20m free-kick; and in the 71st minute, Abdulrehman al Ghassani capitalised on a defensive error to score from a scorching solo run.
The win helped Fanja finish on top of the 26-round league with 51 points, while Suwaiq (48) ended runner-up.
Al Arouba (47) finished third after it slipped to a 0-1 loss against Muscat at the Seeb Sports Complex in another final-round match played simultaneously.
Hamad al Habsi converted a penalty kick in the 48th minute to help Muscat survive in the top flight for the next season.
The final day's action in the OPL had begun with three clubs in title contention - Fanja, Suwaiq and Arouba. It was a straight shootout between Fanja and Suwaiq with the winner of the match slated to take home the beautifully-crafted OPL shield.
Both had 48 points each going into the game, while Arouba trailed them by a point before facing Muscat. Had the Fanja-Suwaiq affair ended in a draw, Arouba would have straightaway bagged the title with a win against Muscat.
But had a Fanja-Suwaiq draw come alongside an Arouba defeat, then joint-toppers Fanja and Suwaiq would have had to duel it out in a playoff to decide the winner sometime in May, which would have been finalised by the Oman Football Association (OFA).
The OFA's rules don't account for goal-difference in the event of teams being tied on points; hence, the need for a playoff. However, neither of these scenarios eventually arose as Fanja put to sleep all the pre-match brainstorming with an outright win.
Desperation after successive jolts
Fanja had been especially desperate for this trophy, having failed to win the Mazda Professional Cup and then crashing out of the His Majesty's Cup in the quarterfinal stage.
The team management had gone into an overdrive, setting its sights on the OPL crown, with the club sacking its Tunisian coach Lotfi Jebara earlier this month.
Former national team goalkeeper and ex-Fanja player Sulaiman al Mazroui took up the coach's job on an interim basis with a few rounds remaining in the league.
Mazroui had also been given temporary charge during November-December when former Oman coach Abdulraheem al Hajri parted ways with the club. Jebara had then taken charge in December end.
Fanja last won the domestic crown in 2012 and had the honour of lifting the first edition in 1977. The nine domestic title wins apart, the club also boasts of the most number of His Majesty's Cup title triumphs - it won nine times, the last one coming in 2014.
Meanwhile, Al Mussanah's goalless draw against Al Khabourah pushed the former club into a double-leg playoff battle with first division side Jalan on April 28 and May 2. And in a late game, relegated Salalah ended its campaign with a 1-2 loss to Sohar at the Sohar Sports Complex.
Sayyid Khalid al Busaidy, the OFA chairman, gave away the winner's shield to the Fanja players.
Last-round results: Al Nasr 3 Saham 1, Muscat 1 Al Arouba 0, Al Nahda 1 Dhofar 1, Al Khabourah 0 Al Mussanah 0, Al Shabab 3 Sur 1, Fanja 2 Al Suwaiq 0, Sohar 2 Salalah 1.
Final standings: 1 Fanja (51 pts), 2 Al Suwaiq (48), 3 Al Arouba 47, 4 Dhofar (39), 5 Al Nahda (38), 6 Al Nasr (37), 7 Sohar (35), 8 Saham (33), 9 Al Shabab (31), 10 Al Khabourah (30), 11 Muscat (30), 12 Al Mussanah (29), 13 Sur (21; relegated), 14 Salalah (14; relegated).