The race for the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League title could be decided this weekend, with Sharjah looking to create history. Here’s the situation heading into a potentially defining round of fixtures.
Who is winning?
Sharjah, the five-time UAE champions, who hold a six-point lead with three rounds remaining. Only thing is, they haven’t won the top-flight title since 1996, and have spent a large chunk of the professional era battling relegation. In fact, they slipped into the First Division following the 2011/12 campaign. Last season, Sharjah finished sixth, their best performance since the league went pro in 2008.
Who are their closest challengers?
Shabab Al Ahli are the only team capable of stopping Sharjah’s charge. Sitting second, the Dubai side will most likely need to win their three remaining matches to retain any hope of a turnaround. They have tasted success already this season, winning both the Arabian Gulf Cup and the President’s Cup in the past month. Managed by the impressive Rodolfo Arruabarrena, they were the first trophies the club has won since Al Ahli, Al Shabab and Dubai club merged in 2017.
Why is this weekend so important?
Sharjah know that, given their superior head-to-head record, they need only to match Shabab Al Ahli’s result in Round 24 to be crowned champions. Arruabarrena's men travel to Dubai rivals Al Nasr on Friday, while Sharjah make the trip to the Zabeel Stadium to take on struggling Al Wasl on Saturday.
The league leaders have frustrated recently too, though, drawing their past three matches. After this weekend, Sharjah round out the season against Al Wahda (home) and Emirates (away).
What makes their season even more impressive?
Despite the run of three matches without victory, Sharjah remain unbeaten this campaign. They have won 15 and drawn eight, conceding the least goals in the division (24) and boasting the best goal difference (+26).
Until now, no other team in the pro era has gone a full season without defeat. What is more,
Sharjah are the only Arabian Gulf League club to have begun the campaign with an Emirati coach: Abdulaziz Al Anbari. Relegation-threatened Fujairah, meanwhile, now have local Abdullah Misfir in charge.