Defining derby for Al Jazira
For some time, the title has seemed destined for the Garden City. Al Ain settled into the top spot two months ago, with the AGL’s most talented squad looking set to confirm their superiority with a third championship in four seasons.
Five matches from the finish line, they hold a four-point lead over Al Jazira and on Saturday travel to an Al Nasr side with two wins in 10 rounds. Al Ain will expect to depart with the points. That places even more pressure on Jazira, who make the short trip across Abu Dhabi to fourth-place Al Wahda.
Eric Gerets’s men cannot afford to slip up, but they should be confident of maintaining their challenge as Wahda have managed a solitary victory in five league matches since Sami Al Jaber took the reins. Anything less than a win and Jazira’s faint title hopes will be extinguished.
Al Wasl’s Fabio focus
The Dubai club have been the league’s form side, securing four victories and two draws from six matches to become prime contenders for a top-four place. They sit one spot and three points back.
Yet the feel-good factor enveloping the Zabeel Stadium received a jolt this week when Sharjah officially questioned the nationality of Fabio Lima, the Brazil-born playmaker who is registered as an Uzbek and thus qualifies as Wasl’s Asian player.
The club maintain Lima’s legitimacy, but it has cast a shadow over preparations for Sunday’s crucial clash with third-placed Al Shabab.
Coach Gabriel Calderon says it will not affect his squad, but Lima has been integral to their rise and, understandably, his focus might be elsewhere. Retaining the shine on the pitch has been made more difficult given the cloud that looms off it. Concentration is key.
Al Ahli’s top-four push
Tuesday night's Asian Champions League victory could be as restorative as it was important. The 1-0 win over Nasaf Qarshi in Uzbekistan hoisted Ahli off the bottom of their group and into second place, breathing fresh life into their knockout-stage ambitions.
It could also spark a disappointing domestic challenge. Last week’s league defeat to Al Ain officially ended hopes of a successful title defence – with 15 points up for grabs, the champions lie 19 points behind the leaders – but much remains at stake.
Ahli languish in seventh, but they sit six points from fourth and retain designs on a top-four finish. Admittedly, there is plenty to do, and their outlook is bleak, yet Ahli’s squad still boast the capacity to take full points from their remaining matches.
That will be tested on Sunday at Emirates.
D-Day for Ajman
The writing has been on the wall for much of the campaign, but Ajman’s relegation to Division One could be confirmed on Saturday. The league’s second-worst team host the club immediately above them knowing that victory for Sharjah would consign them to the second tier next term. Paulo Bonamigo’s side are nine points ahead and seem sure to move another three clear, which would condemn Ajman to the drop by dint of the clubs’ head-to-head record.
It would mark the conclusion to a sorry season for Ajman, who have flitted between managers and floundered for form. In 21 rounds, they have won twice. It is simply not good enough.
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