The Clarets raced into a two-goal lead on the half-hour mark at an electric Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Thursday. UAE winger Tareq Ahmed curled a beautiful shot into the bottom corner against the run of play, before Argentine predator Sebastian Tagliabue placed an unstoppable header home for his record-breaking 14th goal in the 2017/18 edition.
A rollercoaster second period was sparked by Brazilian playmaker Ronaldo Mendes’ 61st-minute header for the Cheetahs to shorten their disadvantage. Wahda then saw both full-backs sent off, Ahmed Rashid walking for two yellow cards and Mohammed Al Menhali seeing red for stepping on Abdulla Saleh courtesy of VAR.
But despite their numerical advantage and six minutes of additional time being played, Wasl could not end their eight-year trophy drought.
SPRINGBOARD TO SUCCESS
Steady work over several seasons, an alien concept in the capricious Middle East, has continued to reap rewards for Wahda.
A pair of AG Cup wins now sandwich 2016/17’s President’s Cup.
There has been a change of management in this period as Romania’s Laurentiu Reghecampf replaced Mexico’s Javier Aguirre last summer. But the decision to consistently make minor changes to the playing roster has consistently delivered trophies.
Success breeds success. This is why Reghecampf is right to believe a four-point gap to Arabian Gulf League-leaders Al Ain can still be closed, as well as a rescue job pulled off in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR RODOLFO?
A miserable 2018 continues to plumb new depths for Wasl.
It’s now just two wins in 13 matches since the end of January. Injuries bite hard in the small Cheetahs squad, but this was not an excuse on Thursday.
Antipathy has grown towards coach Rodolfo Arruabarrena after he failed to rouse his troops, despite playing more than 15 minutes against nine men. This is an alarming state of play when your contract expires in June.
The 42-year-old had rehabilitated his managerial reputation with last term’s shock second place in the league. Those memories risk being forgotten.
MOVE AWAY FROM MATAR
Amid the celebrations for Wahda, it is important to centre on an important changing of the guard.
Ismail Matar is arguably the most-important figure in the club’s 44-year history. The idea of the 34-year-old forward being an unused substitute in a showpiece was unthinkable even 12 months ago.
Now, it barely registers as an afterthought. An association stretching back more than two decades may soon end.
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