Mid-Season Review: UAE Pro League
Kuala Lumpur: With a spot at the FIFA World Cup 2018 Russia and as many as three places in the 2019 AFC Champions League at stake, the 2017-18 UAE Pro League has been full of thrilling action. The-AFC.com looks back at how the competition panned out at the midway point.
Fine Margins at the Top
Following a strong start to the season by Al Wahda, under 2014 AFC Champions League finalist coach Laurentiu Reghecampf, it was Al Ain and Al Wasl who went neck and neck for the remainder of the first half of the season, trading places at the top two spots.
Ultimately, with 11 matchweeks of the season completed, there was very little to separate the two, as both the Cheetahs and the Boss remained unbeaten, boasting an identical record of seven wins and four draws to reach the midway point of the league season with 25 points each.
The title contenders had started the season with 2-2 draw at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, meaning it’s Al Wasl who were crowned ‘Winter Champions’ courtesy of their two away goals.
Last season, Emirates Club survived the drop by the skin of their teeth, ending the season just one point above relegated Ittihad Kalba, and this time around they are in thick of the relegation struggle again.
The Falcons collected four points from their first three matches, but then went on a six-match losing run, leading them to finish the first half of the season bottom with just seven points.
Al Dhafra, who finished last season in the top half, find themselves embroiled in the battle at the wrong end of the table, a point above the Emirates, while Dibba and Hatta round off the battlers for survival.
The two faces of Al Jazira
Reigning champions Al Jazira may have impressed the world when they advanced to the 2017 FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals and played a match of a lifetime against European champions Real Madrid, but their title defence could not have gone worse.
A narrow win against newly promoted Ajman in the opening weekend was followed by a four-match winless run that left them lingering in the bottom half of the table.
Henk ten Cate’s men had a mini revival with two wins from their last three matches, but could not climb higher than fifth come the mid-season break as they failed to beat any of the top-four contenders.
The UAE Pro League rules require each club to feature one player from an AFC affiliated nation, meaning Asian players are in abundance in the UAE.
Former Sanfrecce Hiroshima defender Tsukasa Shiotani impressed for Al Ain, demonstrating his versatility for the Boss to help them remain unbeaten, and even contributing three goals to their cause.
Elsewhere Uzbek midfielder Azizbek Haydarov joined Ajman from Al Shabab to appear in his seventh UAE Pro League, marking his name as the longest serving foreign player in the competition’s history.