De Lima strikes late for high-flying Al Wasl

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The boisterous Al Wasl fans flocked north en masse to Emirates Club in expectation of another win which would further fuel dreams of a surprise Arabian Gulf League title tilt.

They undertook the one-and-a-half-hour trip back to Dubai elated, courtesy of the incredible Fabio De Lima’s glorious late free-kick for the shock leaders.

An eighth goal in eight matches from the Brazilian forward made it seven wins in a row for the division’s upstarts, who could not be in ruder health ahead of Monday’s mercury test of their credentials against champions Al Ahli.

This strike heaped more pain on flailing hosts, who remain stranded in the relegation zone with nearly a third of the campaign gone.

German boss Theo Bucker would have revelled in an unforeseen show of defiance as Argentine Sebastian Saez swiftly levelled midfielder Humaid Abbas’ first goal in yellow just after the break. But it was not to last.

A near miss will provide little consolation.

The gentle vista from Emirates Club Stadium was a world away from the high rises of Dubai, with pink flecks in the sky adding to the sense of serenity as kick-off approached.

Wasl coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena sought to break the calm with an attacking 4-1-3-2 formation, eager to take the game to opponents who sat second bottom and had lost five of their seven previous league games.

Yet the breakthrough for the pace-setters – who limped home sixth under Gabriel Calderon last term – proved elusive in the first half.

Emirates vs Al Wasl AGL 8 2016-17 (2)

A delightful throughball by De Lima played the advancing Abbas in, but his effort was smothered by goalkeeper Ibrahim Abdulla. Countryman Ronaldo Mendes’ audacious free-kick from a tight angle was then repelled.

The restart was to see the dam break. The insouciant De Lima’s nutmeg and perfect cross provided Abbas with a tap-in on 48 minutes, which was wildly celebrated on and off the pitch.

But those expecting this to signal lift-off for the red-hot visitors were in for a surprise.

The Falcons soon charged forward on the counter, with lanky Moroccan winger Mourad Batna showing excellent awareness to tee up Saez to slot home his fourth goal in eight AGL appearances since being snapped up from perennial Qatari strugglers Al Wakrah.

The hosts continued to scrap for a stalemate, led by bullocking Iraq international and ex-Wasl loanee Ahmad Ibrahim.

Tension hung in the air, which was broken in style by De Lima with five minutes left.

It is a challenge to come up with fresh superlatives for the 23-year-old. His unstoppable dead ball from 25 yards made the journey south a memorable one for the ecstatic Cheetahs faithful, who packed out half a stand.

The usual suspects of Al Jazira, Al Ain and Ahli better beware. A new contender is on the ascent.

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