Al Wahda will fight to lift just a second-ever President’s Cup title next month after they overcame Sharjah 1-0 in a tight and tense semi-final.
Victory was delivered in stoppage time via Balazs Dzsudzsak’s penalty, after referee Mohammed Hassan pointed correctly to the spot when Gelmin Rivas clearly handled Ismail Matar’s corner.
That was the second of his decision’s that benefited Wahda – the first just before half time when Rashed Ali brilliantly kept out Yousif Saeed’s effort. Television replays showed about 99 per cent of the ball had crossed the line.
Unlike their opponents, who have lifted a joint record eight trophies in this competition, Wahda only know President’s Cup misery.
The Clarets have tasted defeat five times in the final, most recently in the 2010/11 season as they were thrashed 4-0 by Al Jazira – their only victory coming 17 years ago when they beat Al Wasl 8-7 on penalties.
A similarly slender margin saw them reach a seventh final at Al Nasr’s Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium last night, although defeat, and the manner of it, was heartbreakingly harsh on Sharjah.
Victorious Wahda coach Javier Aguirre paid tribute to his experienced players like Dzsdudzsak, Matar, Sebastian Tagliabue and Jorge Valdivia, whose patience paid off after they had been second best for large periods.
“There’s no doubt the experience of those players, and even my 40 years in coaching, helped,” he said. “It’s in these types of moments we have to show why we are here. Dzsdudzsak, for example, it’s not easy to take a penalty in the 92nd minute.”
Sharjah counterpart Jose Peseiro, who previously managed Wahda, revealed he was “sad” for his team’s exit, and also claimed Hassan got both of the game’s key decisions wrong.
“We are sad because I think our performance deserved more,” said the Portuguese.
“In football the referee can commit mistakes, like a coach, you see how this happens in the Bayern Munich v Real Madrid game. Unfortunately two mistakes were against us. In my opinion it’s a goal and the penalty, our player didn’t open his arms, so it’s impossible to give a penalty.”
In a game of desperately low quality, two crucial moments punctuated it. First, towards the end of the first half when Wahda goalkeeper Ali clawed away Saeed’s effort on the line.
Prior to that, Saeed had scuffed wide when bursting through down the left, while Salem Sultan narrowly failed to connect with Rim Chang-woo’s flick-on from a corner.
Rivas was denied on the hour mark by a brilliant Hamdan Al Kamali block as Sharjah looked the more likely to break the deadlock.
But Wahda were growing into the contest as Sharjah grew weary. Chile maverick Valdivia was introduced to create a spark but he wasted one chance before Tagliabue shot straight at Mohamed Yousif and then skewed horribly wide.
Then came the match’s second big moment. As the clock ticked past 90 minutes, Wahda’s old father time, Ismail Matar, swung in a corner. Rivas jumped, eyes closed and both arms raised. It was a clear penalty.
The inevitable protests followed and a few yellow cards were dished out. After being made to wait several minutes, Hungary international Dzsudzsak showed all his experience and composure to curl his effort low and beyond Yousif, just, into the bottom corner.