Arabian Gulf League returns after national break
Following a four week break to make way for the UAE national team's matches against Japan and Australia in the 2018 FIFA World Cup qualifiers, the Arabian Gulf League is back to action as round 22 of the competition, designated the "Autism Support Round", kicks-off on Wednesday the 5th of April and continues over three days
The 14 Arabian Gulf League teams enter this round with contrasting fortunes and ambitions; recently crowned Arabian Gulf Cup champions, Al Ahli, sit in second place with 47 points and will be looking to mount a late title challenge by closing the 6-points gap with leaders Al Jazira. 44 points Al Wasl and 43 points Al Ain both maintain slim title hopes but will keep an eye for any late collapse from Al Jazira while also taking part in an intense race for AFC Champions League spots. As many as six teams are battling at the other end of the table to avoid relegation with just five rounds to go until the end of the league campaign. Just eight points separate 21-points Hatta in ninth place from 13-points Emirates in the highest relegation place. With Sharjah, Dibba and Kalba occupying the three places in between with 20, 18 and 17 points respectively, while bottom club Bani Yas are still mathematically in the race with their 11 points tally merely six points adrift of the last survival spot. Round 22 kicks off on Wednesday afternoon with two 17:45 games; second bottom Emirates welcome fifth placed Al Wahda to Ras Al Khaima with the hosts eyeing a victory against an Al Wahda side without much to play for, to propel them away from the relegation positions. Champions-elect Al Jazira travel to Fujairah with the target of adding three points to tighten their grip on the title as they face 11th-placed Dibba who are looking to secure their Arabian Gulf League status by widening the 5-points-gap that separates them from the relegation zone. Day 2 starts at 17:50 at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium where fourth-placed Al Ain fight to avoid missing out on the AFC Champions League for the first time since 2012 as they host mid-table Al Dhafra. Both teams enter the game on the back of a 2-0 defeats in the previous round, the hosts had lost to Al Jazira, effectively ending their title hopes, while The Western Knights suffered the same result against Al Ahli in round 21. The latter host Al Wasl in an intense Dubai derby at Rashid Stadium at 20:45 as the two teams chase a continental qualification spot. The Red Knights in second with 47 points are Al Jazira's nearest challengers for the title while the visiting Cheetahs are just three points behind at third. The final day of round 22 sees four relegation strugglers in action; Hatta travel to Dubai to take on an Al Shabab side struggling to end a five-match winless league run that sees them drop to eighth place with 25 points, just one place and four points ahead of their opponents in the 17:50 kick-off. A classic relegation six-pointer sees rock bottom Bani Yas host fellow relegation-strugglers Sharjah, whose 20-points-tally put them at tenth place, just seven points afloat of the drop zone. The round concludes at 20:45 on Friday evening at Al Maktoum Stadium where sixth-placed Al Nasr host 12th Kalba.