Omantel Professional League: Dhofar on brink of historic tenth title
Nine-time champion Dhofar is just a point away from etching its name in Oman's domestic football history as it is the favourite to seal the Omantel Professional League (OPL) title when it hosts contender Al Shabab at the Al Saad'a Sports Complex in Salalah on May 19 - the concluding day of the OPL season.
A draw against Shabab will be enough for the Salalah powerhouse to regain the title that it last won in 2005. It will give Dhofar its tenth OPL title, making it the most-crowned club in the sultanate.
Defending OPL champion Fanja currently shares with Dhofar the OPL honours of maximum titles of nine. Fanja holds the record of maximum His Majesty's Cup titles with nine, while Dhofar is close behind with eight. Dhofar has a chance to equal Fanja’s HM’s Cup record and clinch a domestic double when it meets Suwaiq in the final on May 25.
Dhofar's path to the title was made easier on Monday night at the Seeb Sports Stadium when Shabab was held to a 1-1 draw by Al Suwaiq. The draw left Shabab three points behind Dhofar, which posted a dominating 3-1 win over Sohar at the Sohar Sports Complex.
After the penultimate round, Dhofar leads the table with 50 points, while Shabab is second with 47. Al Arouba's hopes of making it a three-legged title race was doused as it was held to a 2-2 draw by Saham at the Sur Sports Complex.
For Shabab, the only way to clinch its maiden title will be to defeat hosts Dhofar as it has the advantage of winning the home leg 3-0 against the Salalah giant on December 2.
A win for Shabab will help it draw level with Dhofar on points with both clubs tied at 50 but the former will lift the title as it holds the home-leg advantage.
Coached by Spain's Andrea Garcia since February, Dhofar has been in imperious form of late and replaced Shabab at the top on May 10 when it edged past Al Nahda 1-0, a day after Shabab lost 2-3 to Oman.
Shabab, which led the leaderboard for the majority of the season, has surprisingly slipped down in the recent games. Coached by Salim Sultan, Shabab lost two successive games at the start of the month, to Muscat (0-1) and Oman (2-3), before salvaging a draw on Monday against Suwaiq to keep its title hopes alive.
Shabab's in-form Brazilian striker Loks slammed in his 13th goal of the season in the 66th minute to cancel out Suwaiq's 49th-minute goal by Tchetche Kipre.
Four-time champion Arouba's hopes to give Dhofar and Shabab a fight for the title ended with a 2-2 draw against Saham at home. Saud al Farsi gave the hosts the lead in the 14th minute, but Saham's Mohammed al Ghassani drew parity five minutes later. Sami al Hasni then put Arouba ahead in the 26th minute. Arouba hung on to the lead till the 80th minute before Saham's Oman international Mohsin Jawhar got the equaliser to dash Arouba's title hopes.
A win against Al Khabourah in its concluding game can help it finish second if Shabab loses to Dhofar. A draw for Shabab and a win for Arouba will leave the second place to be decided on goal-difference, with Shabab currently holding a better goal-difference of 15 to nine. Both the clubs had won their respective home-leg games 2-1.
Standings (after 25 rounds): 1 Dhofar (50 pts), 2 Al Shabab (47), 3 Al Arouba (45), 4 Al Nasr (38), 5 Fanja (37), 6 Al Suwaiq (35), 7 Sohar (34), 8 Al Nahda (33), 9 Saham (33), 10 Muscat (30), 11 Oman (28), 12 Al Khabourah (27), 13 Al Rustaq (17, relegated), 14 Jalan (17, relegated).
Friday's fixtures: Al Nasr vs Sohar, Saham vs Al Nahda, Al Rustaq vs Jalan, Dhofar vs Al Shabab, Oman vs Fanja, Al Suwaiq vs Muscat, Al Khabourah vs Al Arouba.