Fujairah’s other Argentine, Danilo Carando, came to the fore in the promotion play-offs as the Wolves began life minus Diego Maradona with a 2-1, first-leg triumph against Hatta.
The Arabian Gulf League’s bottom two – Emirates Club and Hatta – are battling the First Division League’s third and fourth-placed finishers – Fujairah and Al Hamriyah – to join the expanded, 14-team 2018/19 top flight.
After an up-and-down week which saw joint FIFA Player of the 20th Century Maradona’s attachment fluctuate before Saturday’s definitive hiring of replacement coach Dr Abdullah Mesfer, the Wolves players remained concentrated on the pitch.
Forward Carando, 29, struck a low opener at Fujairah Stadium on Wednesday from 20 yards on four minutes. Brazilian midfielder Fernando Gabriel then found the bottom corner on 55 minutes to level up, before Carando headed in an 81st-minute winner.
Meanwhile, Emirates will travel to Sharjah’s Al Hamriyah Stadium with a slender 1-0 advantage.
Prolific Argentine striker Sebastian Saez, 33, rounded goalkeeper Waleed Al Ghafri to convert into an open net on 22 minutes.
All four teams meet again on Sunday.
Optimistic Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is convinced “everything is possible in the world of football”, despite suffering a devastating 4-2 home defeat against Qatar powerhouse Al Duhail in their 2018 AFC Champions League round-of-16 opener.
Tuesday’s clash of the domestic double winners at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium turned into a surprisingly one-sided – and heated – affair. Al Ain were staring at a cataclysmic 4-0 defeat by 55 minutes, before Ahmed Khalil and Ibrahim Diaky struck from the substitutes’ bench to provide a glimmer of hope.
They must now score at least three times next week at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium versus omnipotent opponents who went undefeated in the QNB Stars League and were the only side in Asia to win all their group matches. Despite this gargantuan task, Mamic’s belief in the impossible remains undiminished.
He said: “We made a number of mistakes and we lacked the focus during the game.
“We have conceded four goals, but we managed to reduce the gap. We had to score the third goal.
“Now, we know that there are 90 minutes remaining. We will show our best, correct the mistakes and raise our concentration because everything is possible in the world of football.”
This edition of the continent’s elite club competition has been a trying one for the Boss, in contrast to their serene charge to Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup glory.
Doubts about progression grew after their first four Group D-matches were drawn. But they managed to strike four times in Doha when they thrashed Al Rayyan – a result Mamic is drawing on for encouragement.
“It is certain that our mission will not be easy in the second leg, but we can repeat the scenario of scoring four away goals like we did at the end of the group stage,” the ex-Croatia international said.
“We only have to be optimistic and confident in our ability to qualify to the quarter-finals.
“We have five training sessions before the return game. We will modify our situation and correct our mistakes.”
Next Tuesday’s unlikely quest for the 2002/03 winners will not feature Brazilian forward Caio. The 24-year-old was dismissed late on for kicking out at an opponent.
But veteran UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and influential Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat should both be back in the ranks after they served suspensions.
Marzooq, 29, was one of few players to come out with any credit from the merged club’s trying inaugural campaign. He had previously represented the amalgamated Al Shabab in two stints, sandwiched by 2010/11’s brief stay at Al Jazira.
These performances convinced the Blue Wave to take advantage of his uncertain contractual situation and bring him across Dubai.
“Al Nasr formally contracted with the defender Mohammed Marzooq, who is coming from Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club on a four-year contract,” they tweeted. “He will wear the No3 shirt.”
Ivan Jovanovic’s men last week landed emerging UAE forward Mohamed Al Akbari, 22, on a three-year deal from Al Wahda. Reserve left-back Hussain Abbas moved in the opposite direction.
Marzooq was a non-playing member of the Whites squad that finished runners-up during this winter’s Gulf Cup in Kuwait. In March, he started both defeats to Slovakia and Gabon at the King’s Cup in Thailand.
Nasr are yet to make any permanent changes to their foreign quartet. Hatta’s Brazilian forward Samuel Rosa is rumoured to have been teed up.
Jovanovic’s January return inspired a fourth-placed finish in 2017/18.
Meanwhile, runners-up Al Wahda have secured a one-year contract extension with South Korea centre-back Rim Chang-woo.
Rim, 26, has started all 56 AGL matches since his January 2016 arrival from Ulsan Hyundai.