Pride is back for Jazira with magical title

Matt Monaghan 23:51 29/04/2017
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Beaming boss Henk ten Cate has declared sterling dedication and a collective spirit has driven Al Jazira towards their Arabian Gulf League success.

With the usual efficiency showcased throughout this transformational campaign, the long-term pacesetters eased towards a first title since 2010/11 with two games to spare. Leading scorer Ali Mabkhout moved onto 31 goals with a merciless hat-trick, his efforts being added to Brazilian forward Samuel Rosa’s volleyed own goal from countryman Leonardo’s teasing corner and substitute Ailton Almeida’s instant strike once unleashed from the bench.

The Jazira staff and players celebrated wildly in front of the loyal supporters who had ventured to the Hajar Mountains. Few of them, both fans and employees, would have dreamed the misery suffered by the fallen giants in the 2015/16 top flight would develop into supremacy just 12 months later.

Their superiority ensured the minimal target of coming away with the draw required to prevail was never threatened by a promoted side already assured of safety. It also meant usurped champions – who needed victory and a slip-up in the eastern region to extend the chase – Al Ahli’s 2-2 draw at Sharjah at the same time had no bearing on the destiny of the title.

“I’m a happy man,” said ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant Ten Cate, who turned down the Netherlands job on Monday. “Our dream came true, finally – if you believe in something you can achieve it.”

“We don’t have the best players – we know this – but for sure we have the best team.”

“If you score 67 goals, and concede only 15 – this is our 14th clean sheet – it’s something special.”

“When I started here, the group made a fantastic change, where they realised if the group do it together, then we could win something, starting with the President’s Cup last year.”

“But you have to strongly believe in this, you have to work your socks off, you have to be dedicated to the things you do. We still have two games to go and the team said they want to break the all-time record in points and victories.”

“Not one team before won 22 games, and this is now what they’re aiming for: to write history, and real history.”

“There is only one team who deserve the championship this year. And that is us.”

An upset was threatened in just the second minute as nine-goal Fluminense loanee Rosa rattled the base of the post from close range, with UAE goalkeeper Ali Khaseif well beaten.

This was the closest the defeated President’s Cup semi-finalists would get to their unflinching opponents. Influential summer arrival and Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa soon chipped in an inviting cross from which Mabkhout rose unimpeded to head home.

For Ten Cate, he is confused as to why his predator is not a cherished icon in the UAE, saying: “We have one phenomenon: Ali Mabkhout. He is special. Man, he is special.”

“I feel sorry for him that he’s not so appreciated in this country.”

Jazira then held Hatta at arm’s length until they exploded after the interval. Rosa’s long limbs worked against him for an own goal, before Mabkhout unnervingly found the bottom corner to make it 3-0.

They refused to take their foot off Hatta’s neck, two more goals coming in the final throes. Substitute Ailton Almeida moved onto six AGL goals in 20 games as he slotted in shortly after being thrown on.

There was also still time for Mabkhout to escape with the match ball.

UAE prospect Khalfan Mubarak’s dancing feet were too inviting for the Tornado rearguard, with the 21-year-old being felled in the box for a penalty his senior team-mate was emphatically never going to miss.

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