AL AIN // After 26 matches and nearly eight months of intense competition, Al Ain finally got their hands on the Arabian Gulf League trophy on Saturday night.
The Garden City club had the league title won with three games of the season left and at Staurday night’s final game they revelled in the atmosphere and the celebration with their fans and club management at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
The wait was worth it for the champions as the organisers of the ceremony went all out to ensure it was a memorable night.
Advertising boards in and around the stadium read “the home of UAE football” and the vacant side of the stadium reserved for visiting fans had a banner congratulating Al Ain on their 12th league success.
Following the game, the captains of Al Ain’s 12 previous title-winning teams were assembled before the trophy presentation by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mubarak.
On the pitch, Al Ain started on the front foot but the closest they came in the first half was when Miroslav Stoch’s effort from inside the area crashed against the far post and Mohammed Abdulrahman’s powerfully struck shot from the edge of the box was blocked by Mohammed Yousuf, the Sharjah goalkeeper.
But the crowd came to life close to the hour when Mohammed Abdulrahman found the net with a sharp right-footed effort to put Al Ain ahead.
The Emirati midfielder picked up a pass from the Congolese winger Jires Kembo-Ekoko and rounded Mauricio Ramos before unleashing a low shot to the far corner of the net.
Abdulrahman was replaced by his more illustrious younger brother Omar a couple of minutes later as the cheers and the beating of drums by the fans increased in volume through the night.
Al Ain’s celebration would not have been complete had Asamoah Gyan not been on the pitch and the Ghanaian came on in place of Ibrahim Diaky on the 65th minute.
More cheers greeted the striker who topped the scoring charts in the league for three years in succession, before this season.
His 2014/15 was curbed because of injuries yet he played his part by scoring some important goals for his team – 13 in the league.
Sharjah equalised through Wanderley in the 75th minute, but that did not spoil the party.
With 10 minutes of play left, placards and flags in purple and gold appeared in the hands of the fans in the stands opposite the main stadium.
With a minute left they were all on their feet, chanting the victory celebrations as the spotlight quickly turned to the ceremony that followed on the pitch.
Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain coach, said he did not want to talk much about the game but join the celebrations.
“I told my players to go out there enjoy and soak in the atmosphere as much as possible because from the next day we have to get back to work,” he said. “The result didn’t matter but we didn’t lose.
“We now have a new challenge in the President’s Cup and the Asian Champions League. We have to forget the league and work for the next competition.”
Al Ain begin their defence of the President’s Cup with a meeting with Dibba Al Fujairah on Thursday and face Dubai’s Al Ahli six days later in the Asian Champions League round of 16.
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