Balazs Dzsudzsak wrote his name into Al Wahda’s history as his second-half brace helped ensure a deserved President’s Cup final victory against 10-man Al Nasr.
The Hungary winger slotted home a rebound after his penalty – from which right-back Masoud Sulaiman received his marching orders – was saved and fired a swerving rocket from 25 yards, either side of fellow summer buy Tariq Ahmed’s tap into an empty goal.
The Blue Wave put in a ramshackle display, making their public intention in the aftermath to replace Dan Petrescu with ex-Italy tactician Cesare Prandelli eminently understandable.
In contrast, Friday night’s triumph ended the Clarets’ 17-year wait to claim the UAE football’s most-cherished competition for a second time. It also guaranteed that coach Javier Aguirre’s disappointing second, and probably, final season in situ harvested qualification to the 2018 AFC Champions League.
“I want to congratulate Nasr for reaching the final, but unfortunately there’s only one Cup and we were lucky tonight,” said the Mexican.
“I have a meeting with the club president after tomorrow and we’ll see what happens. I have had some offers from China and in America, but I didn’t commit myself.”
There was no such recompense for fellow underachievers Nasr. They failed to create a chance of note, even with scandal-addled striker Wanderley back in their XI after injury.
Petrescu spoke afterwards like a man aware of his fate.
He said: “It’s one of the worst days of my life as a coach. We didn’t have to lose like this.
“Some small moments changed the game for us.”
With Zayed Sports City less than half full – a noticeable drop on preceding editions – and the mercury pushing 35°C, the omens were not good for a gripping contest.
Wahda’s versatile South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo tried his luck from 30 yards in one of few notable moments from a soporific opening. Argentine striker Sebastian Tagliabue then blazed over for them from a fumble when his 32nd goal of the campaign appeared certain.
The Clarets faithful were finally brought to their feet past the hour mark. Clumsy Nasr defender Sulaiman felled Tagliabue twice and handballed, leaving referee Yaqoub Qasem with no choice but to point to the spot and deliver a second yellow.
Occasional UAE reserve goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh pushed the ensuing low effort onto his right post, though this left an open goal for the Magyar to gratefully tap into.
Nasr had stumbled into a second showpiece in three years, failing to win their final trio of Arabian Gulf League matches as they limped home sixth – three points and one place behind Wahda.
Merited defeat was guaranteed when centre-back Mubarak Saeed errantly cleared match-changing substitute Khalil Ibrahim’s cross to thankful winger Ahmed and Dzsudzsak – for a respectable 15th strike in 35 games since being acquired from Turkey’s Bursaspor – memorably sealed it with an unstoppable long-range effort.
The wave of mergers sweeping the Arabian Gulf League has seen the competition reduced from 14 teams to 12 for 2017/18.
A UAE Football Association board meeting decided on the change on Wednesday night, in reaction to Tuesday’s shock series of amalgamations.
This followed a surprise decree from His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and ruler of Dubai, which saw Al Shabab, Al Ahli and promoted Dubai CSC become Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club.
Later that day, a similar edict from Sheikh Sultan bin Muhammad Al Qasimi, sovereign ruler of Sharjah, created Sharjah Cultural Club from Sharjah and second division Al Shaab.
The decision to return to 12 teams for the first time since 2011/12 will be evaluated before the end of next term. A draw to set the new fixtures will be held at the UAE FA’s headquarters on Monday, replacing a now voided ceremony from a week earlier.
Sheikh Mohammed received SAADC’s chairman, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, and committee members yesterday to discuss details about the switch.
Lebanon centre-back Joan Oumari has spent less than five months at Al Nasr, but there is no doubting how aware he is of the President’s Cup final’s importance.
Oumari, 28, only missed one game as the Blue Wave finished sixth in the Arabian Gulf League after he was snapped up from Turkey’s Sivasspor in January. This leading role means he will be at the heart of a defence on Friday against Al Wahda which will aim to provide the platform for a second victory in the UAE’s most-cherished competition in three years.
Much of the team which beat Al Ahli on penalties in 2015 remains and they have let the winter buy know what is expected at Zayed Sports City.
Oumari said: “For everybody, it is very, very nice to be in the final of the President’s Cup. For me also, it has been a very nice four months in which I have been here.
“Everybody has told me it is very nice to win the final. You will see the Sheikhs, and that is very, very important for everybody.”
The Blue Wave stumbled after beating Hatta 1-0 in last month’s semi-final, drawing one and losing two of their last three fixtures. This has not perturbed boss Dan Petrescu, who insists the fact the matches were versus title chasers (Al Jazira) and relegation battlers (Bani Yas and Emirates Club) was decisive.
“In the last games, we played teams who were fighting,” said the ex-Chelsea right-back, whose contract expires this month.
“My players fight, but maybe they were thinking about the final.
“They must go on the pitch and show they can win a cup.”
Nasr have been boosted by striker Wanderley’s return to training after injury.
In the opposite corner, Sebastian Tagliabue will lead the charge for the Clarets after another prolific campaign. The Argentine hitman was shackled in February’s 3-0 top-flight win and Oumari is prepared for the stern challenge ahead.
He said: “We won 3-0 when I played against Tagliabue, but I think he is very strong. He can keep the ball very well and we must press him.”