Al Ain fought well for a 2-1 win to send Kalba into relegation, but the three points did very little to ensure the former champions an automatic spot from the UAE for next season’s AFC Champions League.
It was an interesting mix of six matches of the 26th and final round of the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) on Saturday. The mid-table would be left undisturbed and most of the shift would take place at either end of the standings as teams scrambled for a place in the AFC Champions League.
The UAE has a traditional quota of three and-a-half spots in the continental competition from the Asian Football Confederation (AFC). With Al Jazira walking off with the top spot by winning the AGL crown, realistically only three other teams were in the running for the remaining one and-a-half spot with Al Wasl in pole position with 54 points, followed by Al Ahli (53) and Al Ain (52).
Al Wasl ensured their return to the continental league with the second quota place following a hard-fought 1-0 away win against Hatta. The third automatic spot will go to the winner of the President’s Cup that is scheduled to be contested between Al Wahda and Al Nasr on May 18.
Al Ahli scored on either side of half-time to take the third position in the AGL standings, and along with it the right to participate in the play-offs for the AFC Champions League next season.
Al Ain too won 2-1 at home to send visiting Kalba down to the next division, but the win meant very little as the 2003 Asian champions were left woefully short of a record spot in the AFC competition.
If the top half of the league witnessed such excitement, there was no dearth of excitement at the lower end to see which would be the second team to follow Bani Yas in Division 2 for 2018. Everything seemed to indicate that Al Nasr would return home safe with full points from Ras Al Khaimah against Emirates Club, but there was a twist in the tale as the latter had Sebastian Sacha scoring the only goal of the match in the 65th minute. Emirates Club took full points, sending Kalba down the cellar for the next season.
Abdul Wahab, coach of already relegated Bani Yas, agreed that his team had shown signs of peaking at the wrong time. “I think we gave a good account of ourselves as the league progressed. But we know that this was not enough as we didn’t have the points to back up our performances,” he said.
“It was a challenge to do as much as possible at Bani Yas, but we were unlucky on several occasions. We played some good games, but it was simply not enough to get us the points. We need to go back now and think of putting in some hard work in improving in various sectors,” he added.
Played on Friday
Al Jazira 4 Al Dhafra 0
Hatta 0 Al Wasl 1
Al Shabab 1 Al Wahda 1
Dibba 2 Sharjah 2
Emirates 1 Al Nasr 0
Al Ahli 2 Bani Yas 1
Al Ain 2 Kalba 1
By Alaric Gomes
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