Al Nahda crowned OPL champ

Fanja’s Raeed Ibrahim (second from left) scores during the OPL match against Al Suwaiq at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Sunday (Rodolfo Alfonso/Muscat Daily)

Two-time domestic league winner Al Nahda was crowned champion of the inaugural Omantel Professional League (OPL) after Suwaiq rallied from a goal down to edge out ten-man Fanja 5-3 at the Sultan Qaboos Sports Complex on Sunday night.

Sunday's win saw Suwaiq move a place up to third place with 41 points, denying second-placed Fanja (46 points) the chance to challenge top-of-the-table Al Nahda (54) for the 2013-14 title with two more rounds to play. Al Nahda's previous two domestic league titles came in 2007 and 2009.

Fanja needed a draw or a win on Sunday to prolong the fight for the OPL title but its defeat dashed any hopes for the eight-time winner to match the record of nine titles, held by Dhofar in the 37 year old history of the top flight competition.

Mohammed al Ghassani hammered in a hat-trick for Suwaiq, while his teammates Abdullah al Thuwaini and Bilal Abduldaem scored a goal each.

Abdulaziz al Miqbali, Raeed Ibrahim and Ahmed Hadeed scored for Fanja.

Fanja took the upper hand five minutes into the game when Miqbali slid one in after receiving a pass from Raeed Ibrahim to make it 1-0.

Suwaiq’s Thuwaini found the equaliser a minute before the half hour mark when he angled the ball in from the right to beat Fanja and national team goalie Mazin al Kasbi.

Fanja was reduced to ten men in the 33rd minute when defender Mohammed al Musallami was sent off for a harsh tackle on Harib al Saidi, giving Suwaiq numerical advantage for the longer stretch of the match.

But that didn’t stop Raeed Ibrahim from putting his team back in the lead in the 37th minute when he rushed in with the ball and shot it in from the bottom left corner to make it 2-1 for Fanja. It seemed Fanja was intent on winning the match when Ahmed Hadeed made it 3-1 five minutes into the second half off a free-kick from just outside the penalty area.

Suwaiq brought the match back to life when it reduced Fanja's lead to 3-2 in the 55th minute. A melee in Fanja's goal area saw Ghassani capitalise on a chance and join the goal fest.

The game got more intense in the 83rd minute when Ghassani found his second goal with a chip after receiving a pass from Mazin al Saadi to make it 3-3.

Suwaiq then went up for the first time when its Jordanian recruit Abduldaem scored from a free-kick to make it 4-3 in the 88th minute.

Suwaiq wasn’t done yet as Ghassani completed his hat-trick in stoppage-time after heading in a cross from Zaki al Saadi.

Suwaiq coach Musabbah al Saadi said after the win, “It's hard luck for Fanja. We didn’t perform well in the first half, but we made some changes in the second half that allowed us to come back into the match. Also, I congratulate Al Nahda on their title win.”

Fanja coach Guglielmo Arena said, “We had the game in our hands before the red card. That decision changed everything. Suwaiq was playing long ball for most of the time and we were clearly one player short.”

Arena addressed the issue of playing back-to-back matches, saying, “The Oman Football Association had informed me while we were playing our AFC Cup game in Kuwait that this OPL match would be played at a later date. But when we came back, we were told the game is back on as scheduled. It messed up our training schedule. It is unfair on the team.”

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