DUBAI // Two ultimately frustrating Arabian Gulf League campaigns crept to their conclusion at the Zabeel Stadium on Friday night.
Not long ago, Al Wasl against Al Ain represented a clash between two of the country’s most-prominent clubs, but stuttering seasons for each ensured that 2013/14 will be quickly confined to distant memory.
Sitting 12th and sixth going into the final round of the season, there was little at stake. For Wasl, having gone through two managers and with Jorginho, a World Cup winner with Brazil, set to take charge next month, a summer of significant rebuilding cannot come soon enough. In all likelihood, this was the last match Mariano Donda and Edson Puch will play in Wasl yellow.
Al Ain, though, have more immediate preoccupations. On Tuesday, they can book their place in the quarter-finals of the Asian Champions League for the first time since 2006. Leading 2-1 from last week's first-leg victory at Al Jazira, that competition understandably assumed greater importance.
It was reflected in the team sheet, as seven reserve-team players were promoted to the starting line-up. With Jazira to come, then next Thursday’s friendly with Manchester City and the President’s Cup final days later against Al Ahli, Al Ain have other, loftier concerns.
Thus, only Asamoah Gyan, Mirel Radoi, Yassine El Ghanassy and Mohanad Salem were familiar first-teamers against Wasl. Gyan's inclusion did not surprise, however, given the league's top scorer hopes to secure a third successive Golden Boot.
Starting the match on 28 goals, two ahead of Al Wahda’s Sebastian Tagliabue, Gyan seemed destined not to stretch his lead –not that he had many opportunities.
In injury time, Gyan was provided a lifeline. Yasser Salem was harshly judged to have pushed over the striker inside the area and Al Ain were awarded a penalty. Gyan coolly stroked home from the spot.
There was no response for Wasl, who had moments earlier spurned chances to take the points, with Puch and Ricardo Oliveira wasteful.
A 0-0 result would have summed up the sides’ league seasons. Wasl will finish just above the relegation zone and have to content themselves with the breaking of yet another new dawn this summer.
Al Ain can eke a few more days out of 2013/14, though, thankfully, their league torment finally can be put to bed.
Elsewhere, Al Shabab’s pursuit of second place came to an unsuccessful end on Friday night as they finished their Arabian Gulf League season with a 1-1 draw against Baniyas.
Shabab needed all three points to overhaul Al Wahda and claim second place behind champions Al Ahli. Instead, they found themselves playing catch-up after Nawaf Mubarak put the visitors in front after 66 minutes with a curling free kick.
Sanad Ali equalised for Shabab with four minutes to go, and the hosts could have won, but for Dawood Ali heading over an empty net and Mohammed Ali Ayed hitting the post in the final stages.
One point was enough to keep Shabab in third on 44 points, one better than Al Ain. Shabab can still earn an Asian Champions League place if Jazira and Al Nasr lose their final matches.
Jazira host Sharjah on Saturday, needing a win to return to the ACL next season. A Sharjah win would give them 43 points, though they have a worse head-to-head record against Al Ain. In the early kickoff, relegated Dubai host Nasr, who can take fourth place with a win.
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