Title race blown open as Al Dhafra survive Al Ain onslaught and Al Shabab beat Baniyas

Al Dhafra held Arabian Gulf League leaders Al Ain to a hard-fought 1-1 draw in Round 19, with the main talking point from the game a stunning goal by Makhete Diop from the halfway line.

Baniyas midfielder Bandar Al Ahbabi is surrounded by Al Shabab players during their Arabian Gulf league match on March 13. Photo courtesy: Al Ittihad
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Caio Junior has set his sights on a top-two finish in the Arabian Gulf League after his Al Shabab side moved to within two points of second-place Al Jazira with a battling win over Baniyas.

Henrique Luvannor’s brilliant 36th-minute goal helped Shabab move four points clear of Al Wahda in third place and, with leaders Al Ain dropping points at Al Dhafra earlier in the day, Caio says the championship race is alive again.

“It [Al Ain’s result] is good for all,” he said. “It means the championship is still open. It means Jazira can still become champions and we need to try as well.

“We have seven matches to do it, and I believe in our chances. Our first target is to finish second, and if we manage to do better than that, then that will be great.”

Luvannor could have had his name on the scoresheet inside the opening minute when Abdullah Faraj crossed the ball, but the Moldovan’s header 16 seconds into the match just missed its mark.

The 24 year old had another opportunity in the 28th minute, but he blasted the ball wide. Luvannor made up for those two missed opportunities in the 36th minute, however, with a brilliant finish from a very tight angle.

Watching the Shabab goalkeeper’s kick float across the pitch, Luvannor made an unimpeded dash into the box, evaded Baniyas goalkeeper Mohsin Al Hashmi’s sliding tackle and then curled the ball into the far corner, standing inches away from the endline, through former Valencia defender Angel Dealbert’s legs.

Drubbed 5-2 at home by Sharjah in their last match, Baniyas made a spirited comeback in the second half and Denis Stracqualursi could have equalised in the 56th minute, but Bandar Al Ahbabi’s cross just evaded his reach.

The visitors further upped the pressure in the closing minutes, but Shabab kept them at bay for the three points.

“The first half was for Al Shabab and the second half belonged to us,” said Luis Garcia, the Baniyas coach. “The only difference is they scored one goal. I don’t think Shabab were better than us, but they scored the goal.”

This was the fourth consecutive defeat for his team, but the Spaniard said there were no problems in the squad.

“We are missing some key players every match,” he said. “But if we can keep playing at the level we showed in the second half today, I am sure things will be different in the coming matches.”

Al Dhafra v Al Ain

Makhete Diop scored one of the goals of the season as Al Dhafra survived a barrage from Al Ain to claim a hard-earned point at the Al Dhafra Stadium on Friday night.

Despite near total domination, Al Ain found themselves heading into half-time 1-0 down after Diop produced a David Beckham-esque lob from the halfway line.

The visitors finally found an equaliser 19 minutes after the restart, with French forward Jires Kembo-Ekoko levelling the score.

Al Ain continued to dominate both possession and chances, but simply could not find their way through an organised and stubborn Dhafra back-line.

Indeed, the hosts almost snatched all three points right at the death, but saw a fierce shot in injury time canon off the crossbar.

The draw, combined with Al Jazira’s 2-0 victory over Al Ahli on Thursday means Al Ain’s lead at the top of the table has been cut to four points.

While Al Dhafra will celebrate the point, there could be a long-term concern over goalscorer Diop, who was stretchered off with a knee injury moments into the second half.

Elsewhere, Mahmoud Khamis struck one of the season’s fastest goals, inside the one-minute mark, to guide Al Nasr to a 1-0 win at struggling Fujairah.

Al Nasr move above Al Wasl into fifth place, while Fujairah remain third from bottom.

It was all square between Sharjah and Emirates Club with Mohamed Malalla Hassan giving visiting Emirates a 1-0 lead in the 71st minute before Sharjah struck back to with Marion’s goal in the 79th minute.

Sharjah and Emirates sit 10th and 11th respectively.

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