A fantastic goal in the dying moments by Hussain Abbas enabled East Riffa, battling to avoid relegation to the Second Division, to pull off a 1-1 draw with A’ali in their final game of the Nasser bin Hamad Premier League promotion/relegation play-offs at Khalifa Sports City Stadium last night and avoid demotion to the second-tier competition next season.
With A’ali leading 1-0 as the game ticked into six minutes of injury time, East Riffa were looking at a very real prospect of relegation if they lost because that would have allowed their opponents to draw level with them on four points, meaning that A’ali – seeking promotion to the Premier League after their very first season in the Second Division – would go through by virtue of having won this encounter.
But, in the 93rd minute, Abbas, somehow, managed to get hold of the ball in a multi-player scrum at the top of the A’ali penalty area and his powerful, right-footed kick threaded the ball through the legs of teammates and opponents alike into the right side of the net, evading a desperate dive by goalkeeper Salman Jassim.
The goal sparked wild celebrations in the East Riffa camp as Abbas and his teammates ran towards their bench to envelope each other in a celebratory group hug while the A’ali players looked on, stunned.
All East Riffa had to do, thereafter, was to make sure that they did not concede another goal in the remaining three minutes and, when the final whistle was blown, celebrated their narrow escape – and another chance to add to their lone title, won in 1993-94, next season – with even more gusto.
A’ali, who were in their first season of professional football, had sparkled all year and looked the more confident side through this game, dominating the first half and seeing a few chances going begging before finally managing to go 1-0 ahead in the 74th minute, courtesy of Sunday Divine Abalo whose right-footed shot from distance sent the ball skimming across the turf and into the goal, past the outstretched left hand of diving East Riffa goalkeeper Ayad Abdulla Salem.
The result means that East Riffa, who finished 9th in the 12-team Nasser bin Hamad Premier League table this year, will stay in the country’s top-tier football competition along with Al Hala, who finished 10th in the table, and needed to win their final play-off game against Al Ittifaq last night to avoid relegation – while A’ali will remain in the Second Division.
Having accumulated two points from their two earlier draws against A’ali and East Riffa, Al Hala – who won their only title in 1978-79 – managed to beat Al Ittifaq 1-0 and secure the three points they needed to jump ahead of their rivals, who stayed on three points from a win against A’ali and a loss to East Riffa, and will have to play in the Second Division again next season.