Football: Arabian Gulf League title race to go down to the wire in UAE

Dubai: The 2020/21 Arabian Gulf League champions will be decided on the final day of the season after table toppers Al Jazira and second placed Bani Yas both won their respective penultimate round games and maintained the one point difference that sets them apart at the top of the 14-team leader board.

Ali Mabkhout and Milos Kosanovic scored either side of the break for Al Jazira in the home win against Al Ain, while Bani Yas found the back of the net three times in six first half minutes during their 5-0 win at Al Dhafra. With that, both held on to the top two spots, with Al Jazira only just ahead on 54 points to Bani Yas’ 53.

At the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Al Jazira opened the scoring in the 33rd minute after a long ball from deep found Oumar Traore just outside the Al Ain box. The Malian took control and rolled it into Mabkhout’s path in the box, with the latter tapping in. Al Ain could have levelled four minutes later, but Caio Canedo’s shot was blocked well by Jazira goalkeeper Ali Khaseif, who dove to his left to keep out the Brazilian’s crisp right-footed drive.

Al Jazira could have had a second going into the break, but defender Khalifa Al Hammadi’s header from a 41st-minute corner bounced wide of the left post.

Khaled Essa, the Al Ain goalkeeper, did well to deny Traore and Mabkhout from close range soon after the change of ends after Al Ain’s defence was caught napping on both occasions, while between those two opportunities, his opposite number Khaseif was up to the mark when again throwing himself to his left to thwart Mohammed Abbas’ effort from the top of the box.

Mabkhout had a goal denied in the 58th minute via VAR after he was deemed to have handled the ball before tapping it into an open net.

Al Ain spurned a golden chance to restore parity in the 77th minute after Kodjo Laba’s penalty was saved by Khaseif, who guessed correctly and dove to his right to make the save. It proved costly as Al Ain’s woes were compounded minutes later at the other end, with Essa, who had been on top of his game all night long, failing to punch clear Milos Kosanovic’s powerfully struck left-footed free-kick from a tough angle on the right.

It was a walk in the park for Bani Yas who made hay under the floodlights at Al Dhafra with Joao Pedro and Amer Abdulrahman nodding in from close range either side of Gaston Suarez’s free-kick that found a way in after a deflection. All that happened in a matter of six minutes, with Nicolas Gimenez rolling in a fourth from close range after being set up by Pedro early in the second period and Palestine’s Ahmed Abunamous rounding off the scoring with four minutes of regulation time left.

Bani Yas flexed their muscles thoroughly showing they are ready to snatch a first-ever league title should Al Jazira stumble in their final match against Khor Fakkan, who only just managed to hold on to their AGL spot last week. Daniel Isaila’s Bani Yas, though, have the tougher assignment of facing Al Wahda, who came back from two goals down to force a share of the spoils with visiting Al Nasr.

A Fares Juma own goal and another from striker Sebastian Tagliabue helped Al Nasr take a 2-0 lead, but Wahda bounced back with Omar Khribin pulling one back on the stroke of half-time and Tim Matavz levelling 10 minutes from the end.

Shabab Al Ahli Dubai were flying against Wasl in a derby affair in Dubai with Yousef Jaber, Carlos Eduardo and Harib Abdulla Suhai supplying all of the goals in the first period.

In the earlier matches, playing at home, already-relegated Hatta delivered a 4-0 blow to Kalba, while defending champions Sharjah did relegation-threatened Ajman no favours when thumping them 3-0 at home. Also battling relegation, Fujairah gained a valuable point to move out of the drop zone for now after a goalless draw at Khor Fakkan.

Fujairah and Ajman are level on 15 points with the former ahead on a far superior goal difference. The pair take on the other in their last match, which is a must-win game for Ajman, with a draw sufficient for Fujairah to stay afloat in next season’s AGL. Furthermore, Fujairah have a game in hand against Al Wahda which is scheduled for 15 May.

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