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Matchweek 18 preview: Sharjah, Al Jazira face off in top-of-the-table clash

Matchweek 18 of the Arabian Gulf League is already upon us and there are plenty of crucial and exciting fixtures to look forward to over the weekend, headlined by the Match of the Week which will see Sharjah and Al Jazira go head-to-head in a mouth-watering top-of-the-table clash.


The matchday will get underway on Thursday at 5:30 pm when Fujairah clash with Ittihad Kalba at home. The home side seek to earn three valuable points as they aim to move further away from the relegation zone. After their 3-1 defeat to Al Ain, Fujairah remained frozen on 10 points in 13th place, only one point above relegation rivals Ajman. On the other hand, Ittihad Kalba are looking to return to winning ways after suffering a defeat and a draw that left them in ninth place on 23 points.  


At the same time, Al Dhafra and Al Ain fans will be gearing up for an exciting clash at Hamdan Bin Zayed Stadium. The hosts aim to keep the momentum alive after holding Sharjah to a 1-1 draw and will also be looking to end their seven-game winless streak, which put them 10th on 17 points. They will, however, be facing another tough opponent as the Boss are enjoying the best period of their season and have their eyes on the third spot, as they currently trail Bani Yas with three points only.


Al Wasl and Al Wahda conclude Day 1 action when they face off in what is expected to be a thrilling encounter at Zabeel Stadium. Both sides enter the game with similar goals, as they are tied on 27 points and aim to reach the 30-point mark. Al Wasl will be motivated to maintain their heroic performances after their dramatic 4-4 come-from-behind draw with Ittihad Kalba. Meanwhile, the Clarets will be hoping to repeat their 3-2 win over Al Wasl in the first half of the season.


The action resumes on Friday when Al Nasr, who are fifth on 30 points, welcome bottom-placed Hatta at Al Maktoum Stadium. Considering their league standings, it may seem like an easy task for fifth-placed Al Nasr. However, Hatta’s most recent performance against Shabab Al Ahli, which saw them suffer a late 2-1 defeat, shows that the Blues may face difficulty collecting the three points, as they seek to enter into the top three.    


Bani Yas will be hosting Ajman in a top-versus-bottom clash at the same time. The home team enter the game on the back of a thrilling 3-3 draw with Al Jazira. The Sky Blues look to close on the four-point gap on Al Jazira and Sharjah, who will face off later on Friday. At the other end of the table, the Oranges are in dire need of the three points as they currently sit in the relegation zone with nine points.


Shabab Al Ahli will be targeting to edge closer to the top four when they face Khorfakkan at Rashid Stadium at 20:15 pm. The hosts' recent performances allowed them to climb up to sixth place on 29 points, one below Al Nasr and Al Ain. Khorfakkan’s motives are completely different as the guests need to end their winless streak which left them in the 11th spot with 15 points only.  


All eyes will be at Sharjah Stadium, where Sharjah and Al Jazira, the top two teams on the standings, will fight it out in a game that might prove pivotal in the title race. The winner of the top-of-the-table showdown will move three points clear at the top, as they are both currently tied on 37 points, with the King having the edge by the virtue of a head-to-head record.


Besides fighting for the top spot, the King will be looking to return to winning ways after collecting two points only in their past three matches, as they drew with Al Wahda and Al Dhafra and lost to Al Ain. They will, however, have a tough task ahead as they clash with the Pride of Abu Dhabi who are the highest-scoring team in the league so far with 45 goals and are tied with Bani Yas as the strongest defense after conceding 17 goals only. Al Jazira will also be looking to avenge their 1-0 defeat to the King in matchweek 5 and bounce back after their most recent draw with Bani Yas. The competition extends to the top goalscorer race, as Welliton Soares looks to reduce the three-goal gap with leader Ali Mabkhout, who has 15 goals to his name so far.  

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