UAE Pro League: Late goals lift Al-Ain and Al-Wahda to dramatic wins

Late goals in the title race in the ADNOC Pro League and a crucial result for Al-Wasl̵7;s Bur Dubai derby Joy defined Matchweek 17.

Sharjah’s 2018-19 title-winning coach and former one-club man, Abdulaziz Al-Anbari, returned to hurt when his Khor Fakkan team took the lead through Elton Boa Morte’s 89th-minute diving header Found the only goal. This led to Sharjah slipping to the fourth spot, with the chasers all but claiming victory.

These came in epic circumstances for fifth-placed Al-Wahda and third-placed defending champions Al-Ain. The former secured a 2–1 win against Al-Battayeh thanks to Facundo Kruspezki’s 105th-minute header, while the indomitable Kodjo Pho-Doh Laba scored in the 97th to secure a 3–2 win at Ittihad Kalba for the latter. Brilliant strike in the minute.

Tuesday’s 2-0 win against second-placed Al-Dhafra eased leaders Shabab Al-Ahli Dubai into their 2022 AFC Champions League knockout clash with holders Al-Hilal. Second-half efforts from Siakah Sidibe and Ali Saleh ensured second-placed Al-Wasl’s victory by the same scoreline versus Al-Nasr’s impressive scoreline.

Tunisian schemer Firas Ben Larbi scored two magical assists as Ajman beat relegation-haunted Dibba Al-Fujairah 3–2, while Ali Mabkhout was among the scorers as Al-Jazeera beat Baniyas 2–0.

Here’s a leading selection of Arab news and talking points from the latest action.

Player of the Week – Kodjoe Pho-Doh Laba (Al-Ain)

If Al-Ain managed to successfully defend his title despite a decent start, one deserves immense credit.

Laba’s inspirational and impressive run crossed the 90-minute mark this Friday on the East Coast with his second consecutive winner. It may yet lead the UAE’s most decorated club to greater glory.

The team looked set for a stalemate when Romanian midfielder Alexandru Sicaldau converted a 94th-minute penalty for Calaba. A hard fought, fifth win in a row was getting away.

Step up the unstoppable Togo hitman of Al-Ain.

Under substantial pressure in a compact penalty area, and with his Kalba markers already trying to distract with offside calls, Laba conjured up a clever cut-back turn and an advanced finish into the roof. Uproar after VAR decision.

Added credit – beyond hitting 20 league goals in 17 run-outs this season – can also be found with his 21st-minute assist for UAE forward Caio Canedo’s close-range opener.

After matchweek 11, when play was halted for the 2022 World Cup, Serhiy Rebrov’s men were fifth. A third consecutive draw left them seven points behind Sharjah by Matchweek 12.

The in-form side of the competition are now just two points behind third. Without Laba, they too would be ransack.

Goal of the week – Sebastian Tagliabue (Al-Wahda)

Tagliabue continued to turn back the clock in Matchweek 17.

The timeless 37-year-old’s flamboyant flick helped Al-Wahda on their way to a dramatic victory against Batayeh.

Nostalgia appeared to be the main driver when the Clarets re-signed Tagliabue last summer.

The Argentina-born striker had registered an incredible 152 goals in 157 league matches from 2013-2020. But two forgettable campaigns saw Al-Nasr record a deficit of 21 goals in 44 top-flight matches.

Tagliabue, however, has developed into an important supporting role for João Pedro. This was once again seen in the Batayeh Vs.

After being thrashed by Manolo Jiménez at half-time, he netted in style only six minutes later.

A low cross from Al-Hilal loanee Matheus Pereira was placed slightly behind him. Tagliabue steadied his feet and heels with years of experience, and residual ability, then punishingly past Abdullah Yousef for an eye-catching opener.

It is now three goals in his last four games for the striker, who was recalled to Rodolfo Arrurabarena’s UAE squad for their aborted Arabian Gulf Cup campaign in January.

Coach of the Week – Abdulaziz Al-Anbari (Sharjah)

Al-Anbari is a measured, dignified and talented head coach.

But the horror of the moment, of course, could not be lost on him.

Boa Morte’s decisive connection with Algerian midfielder Mehdi Abed got the home faithful on their feet at the Saqr bin Mohammed Al-Qasimi Stadium.

It marked a characteristic victory for al-Anbari in an emotion-filled contest.

Marshall, now 45, midfield for Sharjah from 1994-2010. This committed servant saved them from relegation in 2017/18, initially as caretaker, and orchestrated an unexpected 2018/19 charge to a first top-flight title in 23 years.

Khor Fakkan achieved only 29 percent possession on Friday and lost the count 20-3. A repeat set of September’s 3–0 rout appeared.

But Al-Anbari – who moved out of Sharjah in October 2021 – has stabilized his troops and tried to deny the beloved Sharjah clear chances.

This would prove to be a winning strategy.

How Shabab Al-Ahly shape up for ADNOC Pro League’s Asian Acid Test

Monday night in Doha the 2022 ACL quarter-finalists clashed with ramifications beyond recognition.

ADNOC Pro League pacesetters Shabab Al-Ahli challenged Asian champions Hilal to an engrossing match. It sheds the leading lights from two competitions owned by huge ambitions.

Al-Hilal’s pedigree is undisputed. This month’s historic run to the 2022 Club World Cup final says a lot, never mind lifting two of the last three continental cups.

The state of Shabab Al-Ahli – and UAE football – is less certain. It was 2016 when the UAE club made Asia’s showpiece club event, the same year Omar Abdulrahman won the country’s last AFC Player of the Year gong.

A trio of Saudi outfielders have made it to the knockouts of this edition – including exiled Al-Faisali. Shabab Al-Ahli is the only Emirati.

Saudi Arabia surprised the eventual winners of the World Cup 2022, Argentina. It’s been almost 33 years and counting since the UAE made its mark on the global stage.

Clubs in the Emirates recently made global headlines with the acquisitions of Andrey Yarmolenko, Jason Denayer, Miralem Pajnik, Paco Alcacer, Alan and many more.

Now is the time to translate these aspirations into tangible results. The round-of-16 meeting with Al-Hilal is an indication of where they are on this journey.