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Arabian Gulf League: Sixth crown for Al Ahli

Dubai: Al Ahli scored twice within four minutes to end their four-year wait for a second league title of the professional era with a 2-1 win against Al Wasl at the Rashid Stadium here late on Thursday.

The club from Al Ghusais had previously won the league on two successive occasions in 1975 and 1976 and then in 1980.

Their fourth league title came after a gap of 25 years in 2006, with Winfried Schaefer as coach, and then for the fourth time in 2009.

Winners of the crown when the professional league in its launch year, Cosmin Olaroiu’s boys needed just one point from Thursday night’s match.

But that didn’t seem to be on the horizon for the Red Knights as Al Wasl’s Ricardo de Oliveira struck a measured free-kick to give the visitors the lead and silence the home fans.

Without the services of influential playmaker Luis Jimenez, Al Ahli seemed to be struggling in their build-up towards their rivals’ goal. They did attack, but that was only after another regular Batista Libanio (Grafite) was introduced in place of an injured Salmeen Khamis midway through the first half.

The Brazilian had an immediate impact and it was goalkeeper Rashid Ali keeping the visitors in the match as he made two saves in as many minutes. First, Ali dived to save a first-time shot from Grafite and then had his angle covered to keep away a header.

The home side responded well in the second half as they maintained ball possession and had a crack at goal when the moment was right. This ploy had the necessary result as in the 55th minute Ahmad Khalil curled in a beauty past Rashid Ali after receiving from Esmail Al Hammadi to send the near-capacity crowd into wild celebrations.

And three minutes later, Grafite deservingly claimed the second goal when he broke the offside trap and fired home a long ball from Hugo Viana to secure the requiredresult and take the Al Ahli tally to 57 points.

With three more matches remaining, the league will now take a two-week break when Al Ahli make the short trip across to Al Mamzar to take on second-placed Al Shabab on April 27.

However, Al Ahli have a busy schedule lined up with their next Group D match of the AFC Champions League taking place in Saudi Arabia against Al Hilal.

They will then face Al Jazira in the final of the Arabian Gulf Cup in Al Ain on April 19 before completing their AFC Champions League preliminary-round engagements with an away fixture against Qatar’s Al Sadd on April 22.