Abu Dhabi: Don’t be surprised to see the AFC Champions League fixtures create a few ripples in the Arabian Gulf League (AGL) standings in the coming weeks as the domestic league inches closer to its climax.
Al Ain regained top spot in the standings following a 3-0 drubbing over bottom-placed Emirates at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday.
With that win, Al Ain moved up to 38 points, two points clear of Al Wahda, who on Thursday won their match against Hatta 1-0. The week 16 also saw Al Wasl slip after being held by defending champions Al Jazira to a 1-1 draw.
Though Wahda are on the trail of The Boss, it will be interesting to see if the capital outfits can manage the right balance and still excel despite figuring in two different tournaments.
Al Ain have been in these situations more than most teams in the league, so it is unlikely that they would stutter. Al Ain make their trip to Riyadh to take on Al Hilal, the same team who knocked them out in the quarter-finals of the 2017 edition of the competition, in the Champions League group fixture on February 13.
Al Wahda will be meeting Uzbek side Lokomotiv Tashkent before coming back and figuring in the Arabian Gulf Cup quarter-final clash against Al Ain on February 16. Then, again in two days’ time, Al Wahda play Qatari Club Al Duhail at home in the ACL. On February 23, they again will be locking horns in a crucial encounter of the AGL with Shabab Al Ahli Dubai.
Al Wasl and Al Jazira, the other two teams in the Champions League group stages, have similar gruelling fixtures lined up the coming weeks and these teams will also have plenty on their plate. Their bench strength and tactics will be severally tested and the coaches will have some tough choices to make.
Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic after his side’s win against Emirates said that the reality was that the result was ‘better than the performance.’
“Al Ain provided a good performance in the first half and scored three goals but the overall result is not as good as it was in the last match against Ajman. Our concentration was not up to the mark and we failed to convert easy scoring opportunities. But most importantly, we got those three points in the absence of few key players,” said Mamic, whose side was put into the lead as early as in the third minute by their Egyptian striker Hussein Al Shahat who drove home a Marcus Berg back-pass. Al Shahat then turned provider as his release found Ahmad Khalil, who shot home to make it 2-0 in the 16th minute. Brazilian striker Caio then completed the tally before the change of ends.
“Certainly, after we scored three goals, some started thinking about the next game, but in football we have to think about each game separately,” said Mamic adding that his team is ready for the challenge in the AFC fixture.
“I look forward to the Asian Championship to take advantage of the efforts of all the players,” added Mamic, who was hoping that his Emirati winger Bandar Al Ahbabi will be fit for the AFC clash.
“Al Ain is currently missing the services of Al Ahbabi and we hope he will be ready for our next match against Saudi Al Hilal. The rest of the players are ready for the challenge and we have to enjoy our next encounter as it will be in large public presence in Riyadh.”
RK TEAM P W D L GS GA PTS
1 AL AIN 16 11 5 0 42 16 38
2 AL WAHDA 16 11 3 2 37 16 36
3 AL WASL 16 9 5 2 35 21 32
4 AL NASR 15 7 2 6 22 16 23
5 AL JAZIRA 16 5 7 4 25 24 22
6 SHABAB AL AHLI 15 4 8 3 20 14 20
7 AJMAN 15 5 4 6 18 27 19
8 SHARJAH 15 4 4 7 16 22 16
9 HATTA 16 3 4 9 25 42 13
10 AL DHAFRA 16 2 6 8 18 29 12
11 DIBBA 16 2 6 8 15 28 12