Sharjah playmaker Igor Coronado said the club’s first league title in almost a quarter of a century was a triumph of dedication and team spirit after they clinched the long-awaited crown on Wednesday night.
The Sharjah club defeated Al Wahda 3-2 in the penultimate round of the 2018/19 Arabian Gulf League (AGL) campaign, with Coronado scoring either side of a Welliton strike.
The victory meant Sharjah cannot be caught by second-placed Shabab Al Ahli because of their superior head-to-head record. The Dubai side sit three points off the summit.
Sharjah’s title success was their sixth overall but first since the 1995/96 campaign, when the club typically challenged for top honours. However, previous to this season, Sharjah’s best finish in the professional era was sixth last year. They were relegated seven years ago.
Yet, despite a run of three draws and Saturday's defeat to Al Wasl - their first of the season - Sharjah finally got over the line on Wednesday to spark wild scenes at the Khaled bin Mohammed Stadium. Also, manager Abdulaziz Al Anbari became the first Emirati to lead a club to the AGL title.
“It means everything to be honest,” said a visibly delighted Coronado. “We worked so hard to win the league. It was not easy, especially the way the last few games were going.
“There were a lot of questions asked and, after the last game against Al Wasl, I spoke how we should not put our heads down and thank God the players didn’t do that. We kept going strong.
“Today wasn’t an easy game. Everyone was doubting us, so it means everything for the work that we’ve done for the year. We’re very happy about it. This shows the strength we have, that we stayed together for the whole year.
“Our strength was the group. There are five, maybe six, teams with a lot more quality, but this Sharjah team is a young steam that stuck together and fought really hard for each other. And that’s what stood out. We managed to do that in the most parts of the games this season.
“We should be happy. This is everything we worked for all season. It’s our moment to enjoy. It took a long time: you have to fight until the end. But everything was in our hands. We managed to get the three points and become champion.”
Signed last summer from Palermo in Italy, Coronado has been integral to Sharjah’s resurgence. The Brazilian has scored 17 goals and assisted nine more, forming a prolific partnership with compatriot Welliton, who has 19 goals.
“This is the first championship for me, so it’s the biggest achievement of my career, definitely,” said Coronado, who conceded Sharjah never even considered becoming champions when the league began back in September.
“When I arrived the question was really not to get relegated, to have a safe season and finish better than top six, because this is where Sharjah finished last year.
“So we kept going game by game, step by step, thinking of the next game, the next three points. And then it was just at the end of the season that we really realised what we could achieve.
“Definitely a very difficult season, but like I said, we’re a strong team with a strong mentality, with a strong coach. We managed to do it and we’re so happy now – we just have to enjoy. We’re so happy for the fans as well because they’ve been waiting for this for a long time. It’s been really good ... really good.”