Will Al Ain get outside Al Jazira’s reach? – AGL talking points

Ahead of what could be a pivotal round in the Arabian Gulf League, John McAuley examines whether Al Ain are likely to pull too far away for Al Jazira to mount a title challenge any further.
Al Ain maintain a four-point lead over Al Jazira for the Arabian Gulf League title with seven matches left in the season. Anas Kanni / Al Ittihad
Al Ain maintain a four-point lead over Al Jazira for the Arabian Gulf League title with seven matches left in the season. Anas Kanni / Al Ittihad

Will Al Ain take huge step to title?

With a four-point lead at the top of the table, Al Ain seem set for a third championship in four years. By the conclusion of Round 20, that could be almost guaranteed. The Garden City club should have too much for Emirates, despite travelling to Ras Al Khaimah only days after their trip to Uzbekistan in the Asian Champions League. Expect Asamoah Gyan and Omar Abdulrahman, both unavailable for the victory against Pakhtakor, to return. Second-placed Al Jazira, meanwhile, face a tricky encounter at Al Nasr, who boast the league’s second-stingiest defence. As the division’s top scorers, Jazira will pose problems, but should they drop points and Al Ain win, then the destiny of the title is pretty much confirmed.

Can Al Ahli find their shooting boots?

Cosmin Olaroiu was refreshingly candid after Wednesday’s disappointing draw with Nasaf Qarshi. Rooted to the bottom of their Champions League group, Al Ahli had drawn another blank: the sixth time in eight matches they have failed to find the net. Olaroiu explained his side’s problems up front, saying Ahli had tried unsuccessfully to sign a striker in the winter window. Since Ahmed Khalil is not consistent enough to lead the line, the UAE champions’ lack of a killer instinct threatens to wreck their season. Stranded in seventh, Ahli must get their act together to post a top-four finish. They next play Al Dhafra, who have a penchant for upsetting the big boys. A toothless Ahli could struggle, again.

Will Al Jaber break his duck?

Parachuted into a thriving Al Wahda last month, it has been an inauspicious start for Sami Al Jaber. The Saudi Arabian has overseen three league matches, but has yet to win. Last week’s first-half display in the defeat to Al Wasl was particularly chastening. However, there have been mitigating factors, chiefly the continued absence of Sebastian Tagliabue, who has yet to feature for his new coach. Al Jaber’s fortunes should change on Sunday, though. Wahda entertain relegation-threatened Ajman, without a victory in seven matches. Wahda will cement their top-four status, while Al Jaber will breathe a hefty sigh of relief.

Are Al Wasl genuine top-four contenders?

What a difference in mood at the Zabeel Stadium. Following a poor start to the second half of the season, Wasl have completely reversed their form, with three victories and a draw from four matches. They have scored 15 times. Much credit must go to Gabriel Calderon, who has his young side firing at the opportune time: seven rounds out from the finish line, Wasl sit four points off the top four. Their Brazilian triumvirate – Caio, Ederson and Fabio Lima – has been excellent, as has Hugo Viana. Saturday’s trip to an off-colour Baniyas offers the chance to close the gap on those above them. Whisper it, but Wasl are on the up again.

Will Fujairah all but secure survival?

A first season back in the top flight was all about consolidation. Fujairah had not sat at the main table for seven years, so survival was the prime mandate. With Ajman and Kalba cut adrift below them, they seem certain to meet their target. Should Fujairah stay up, Ivan Hasek’s appointment will be deemed a success, although the former Ahli coach has just about steered his new side to safety. The east coast club may have fallen a place during Hasek’s time there, but 12th will do. They travel to Kalba next, when victory against the bottom club will keep them at least seven points ahead of Ajman. Another season in the Arabian Gulf League is a given.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE

Published: March 20, 2015 04:00 AM

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