A pulsating six-goal thriller could be the catalyst that finally sparks the Cesare Prandelii era into life at Al Nasr, but the sheen has well and truly come off Al Jazira’s Arabian Gulf League title success.
It’s difficult to put a finger on what’s gone wrong in the four months that have passed since Jazira’s epic title triumph – Henk ten Cate’s side seemed like they were only going to get stronger after a strong summer recruitment drive that yielded former Real Madrid central midfield tyro Lassana Diarra.
The worrying thing for Pride of Abu Dhabi fans is that for the injection of quality Diarra, Sardor Rashidov, Romarinho and Ahmed Khalil was supposed to provide – the base hunger and desire that carried a youthful and perceived weak team to the title has evaporated.
Two of Nasr’s four goals at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium last night came after Fawaz Awana’s dismissal – the former Bani Yas midfielder deservedly seeing yellow for a second time in 14 minutes after hacking down promising young Jazira full-back Salem Al Eedi.
That should have given the home side the impetus to push on and punish the visitors. Instead it was Prandelli’s men – led by an inspired Wanderley – that scored the next goal.
Jazira – despite having the best part of an hour to find a way to win – looked toothless and shorn of ideas, despite a wealth of creative, attacking talent at their disposal.
The one crumb of comfort for them was Ali Mabkhout’s initial equaliser – it was his 102nd AGL goal, making him the leading scorer in the professional era.
A breathless opening 45 minutes kicked into gear when Ali Khaseif watched helplessly as he parried Marcelo Cirino’s dangerous low cross only for it to cannon off Musallem Fayez, under pressure from Wanderley, and into the net.
The former Sharjah man then side-footed former Jazira playmaker Abdelaziz Barrada’s inch perfect cross against the bar as the Blue Wave cascaded forward.
That miss proved costly when Mabkhout calmly slotted in on 12 minutes following impressive youngster Salem Al Eedi’s insightful throughball.
Normal service then seemingly resumed when Fares Juma ghosted in to power Khalfan Mubarak’s corner in via a back post header.
But the visitors levelled less than a minute later when Wanderley lost Juma and assuredly beat Khaseif.
Then came Awana’s ill-timed tackle and dismissal – yet wonderful Wanderley put Nasr back in front when his powerful header from a free-kick was too hot to handle for Khaseif, who did well to tip it onto the post but the linesman deemed he did not prevent it from crossing the line.
Despite being a man to the good, Jazira looked toothless and clueless in attack as they struggled to capitalise on the extra man.
Romarinho and Rashidov – the latter introduced at the break – struggled to have an influence. But another replacement certainly didn’t. Little seemed on when a hopeful punt was sent up to Wanderley, but he patiently waited and then swept a low cross into the box and Fayez failed to spot the run of substitute Rashed Omer – on the field a mere 30 seconds – who swept home to make it 4-2.
The onslaught from Jazira failed to materialise. Mabkhout calmly collected a rebound after Ahmed Shambieh had parried Mbark Boussoufa’s stinging shot but somehow he put his effort wide when a goal would have made for a grandstand finish.
Instead, Jazira’s misery was compounded when substitute Al Otaiba was red carded in stoppage time for barging over another replacement, Jassim Yaqoob.