Al Nasr threw everything at visitors Arsenal and were by far the better side for 45 minutes before succumbing to a 3-2 defeat as they opened their new Al Maktoum Stadium in fine fashion.
The Blue Wave christened their new home in suitable style with a goal fit to grace any game. They’d started brighter and got their reward when Chilean Ronnie Fernandez heated the game up with a sumptuous curling effort that beat a despairing Bernd Leno and went in off the inside of the post.
Arsenal, second best throughout the opening 45 minutes, equalised via Denis Suarez’s exquisite vision. He picked out Carl Jenkinson’s run and after the much-maligned right-back’s first effort cannoned off the upright, he thumped home the rebound.
A raft of changes – all 11 players were replaced at the break by Nasr boss Benat San Jose – seemed excessive given their first half showing. But when Arsenal are in town, everyone wants some of the action and they paid thereafter as Alexandre Lacazette put the Premier League giants 2-1 ahead before Tyreece John-Jules scored the killer third.
The hosts had something to cheer about late on when Rashed Omar was bundled over and Khalid Jalal calmly stroked home to make it 3-2.
Here is our Al Nasr ratings:
AL NASR (4-4-2)
Ahmed Shambieh 6: Flapped at a few crosses and looked a bit nervous, but came out early to deny Lacazette.
Ahmed Ibrahim 7: Typified Nasr’s belief as he got forward to join attacks. Had trouble keeping tabs on Medley and Suarez though.
Masoud Sulaiman 7: Formed a brick wall alongside Oumari as Arsenal struggled. Could have had a goal too, his header blocked by Leno’s knees.
Joan Oumari 6: Lebanon veteran let Lacazette know he was there early on with a clattering challenge. Bossed things at the back otherwise.
Mahmoud Khamis 7: An expressive player and he used this big stage to show us his stuff. Gave Jenkinson a torrid time as he marauded forward.
Junior Dutra 7: Quiet start, surging run down the right led to the opening goal. Showed poise to cut ball back to Fernandez.
Amer Mubarak 7: Thrived against young midfield opponents who were surprised by Nasr’s insurgence and energy.
Tariq Ahmed 7: Tenacious and energetic as ever. Showed brilliant feet to trick Lacazette to get out of a tight situation in his own box.
Alhussain Saleh 8: Nasr were enjoying a lot of joy down both flanks, largely due to the excellent work of the lightening quick Saleh and Dutra.
Alvaro Negredo 7: The Beast lived up to his name, proving a handful for Arsenal’s defence. Couple of early sighters. Wasteful. Could have had a hat-trick…against Arsenal.
Ronnie Fernandez 8: Really good movement up front. Should have scored inside 60 seconds but shot tamely at Leno. A thorn in the side. Opened scoring with a stunning strike.
Mohamed Marzouk 6: Got a slice of the action but had a job patching up an increasingly dishevelled defence.
Yousef Jaber 6: Endured a tough time as Arsenal’s raft of rapid replacements ran Nasr ragged.
Ahmed Jashak 6: Slotted into midfield and even though his side were looking leggy, he pushed forward.
Ali Hussain 6: Tried to pin down an increasingly rampant Gunners’ midfield.
Khalid Jalal 7: A raft of changes made it difficult to maintain any rhythm but he patrolled midfield admirably. Converted his penalty stylishly.
Rashed Omar 7: Good energy in the final third as it crumbled behind him. Bundled over for the late penalty.
Mohamed Bouherrafa 5: Looked off the pace, roasted by Maitland-Niles.
Ibrahim Essa 6: Replaced Shambieh and had a busy outing, helpless for both goals conceded.
Khamis Esmail 6: Surprised to see an Al Wasl player putting on the Nasr blue. Tried to take Cech by surprise with a long-ranger. Wide, but only just.
Saeed Sowaidan 5: Came on and lasted 20 minutes before being forced off.
Mohammed Fawzi 6: Veteran slotted in at right back and didn’t do much wrong.
The UAE players will get another chance to stake their places in Bert van Marwijk’s future plans when they meet depleted Syria.
Van Marwijk, 66, was confirmed as successor to Alberto Zaccheroni last Wednesday and was in the stands at Abu Dhabi’s Al Nahyan Stadium 24 hours later to witness a come-from-behind, 2-1 friendly win against former employers Saudi Arabia.
The 2010 World Cup finalists with his native Netherlands is also expected to be in attendance for Tuesday’s second – and final – clash of this international break at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
Star attackers Omar Khrbin, of Egypt’s Pyramids FC, and Omar Al Somah, of Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli Jeddah, will both be absent for the visitors to Abu Dhabi. This has not, however, stopped caretaker boss Saleem Abdulrahman from reiterating the importance of this phase for a nation that is still recovering from a harrowing semi-final exit on home soil at January’s Asian Cup.
He said: “We are seeking to win the trust of our fans, restore confidence and cheer up the players. This is especially true for the young players, who join the team for the first time.
“We intend to continue with big enthusiasm for the second friendly against Syria on Tuesday.”
Al Ain right-back Bandar Al Ahbabi and Al Jazira predator Ali Mabkhout got the goals in nine second-half minutes to defeat a second-string – at best – Saudi Arabia.
The UAE will again be without their sizeable Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club and Al Wahda contingent because of last Friday’s Arabian Gulf Cup final, plus their brightest young talents because of ongoing AFC U-23 Championship qualifiers.
This could see continued opportunities for the likes of Al Nasr midfielder Habib Fardan. The 28-year-old started, against the Saudis, for the first time since August 2016.
UAE: Essa; Sal. Rashid, Abdulrahman, Saeed, Saleh; Salmeen, Fardan; Sai. Rashid, Yaslam, Khalfan; Mabkhout
Syria: Alma; Jenyat, O. Midani, Al Salih, Somi; Al Mawas, Haj. Mohamad, Z. Midani, Kalfa; Al Khatib; Al Wakid
Kick-off: 17:45; Stadium: Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium; Live Tuesday on: Abu Dhabi Sports HD
‘Mission 2022’ began in earnest last week when the UAE announced Bert van Marwijk as their next coach.
To make the next World Cup, he will need to utilise all the wisdom accrued during more than 20 years in management highlighted by qualifying Saudi Arabia to last summer’s edition and dragging his native Netherlands to 2010’s final.
Here, Sport360° assesses what awaits in the 66-year-old’s in tray at the UAE Football Association’s Al Khawaneej headquarters when he gets down to work:
A ‘Golden Generation’ that, ultimately, came up short.
That is the unavoidable conclusion about the group that shone at the London 2012 Olympics and finished an exhilarating third at Asian Cup 2015, yet failed a once-predestined quest to make World Cup 2018.
The challenge for Van Marwijk is to pick apart the remnants, choosing who to retain and who must be consigned to the past.
A delicate balancing act is required. Blood youngsters – Al Wahda goalkeeper Mohamed Al Shamsi, club-mates Ahmed Rashed plus Yahya Al Ghassani, Al Jazira defender Khalifa Al Hammadi and Al Wasl forward Ali Saleh immediately spring to mind – who will be of increasing importance during the third round of World Cup 2022 qualifying, while not leaving the team too callow to advance from the second round.
The celebrated tripartite of Al Hilal playmaker Omar Abdulrahman, Al Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club forward Ahmed Khalil still possess the ability and relative youth – they are aged 28 and under – to remain centre points.
Big decisions, however, must be made on stalwarts aged around 30-years old, a list headlined by; Shabab Al Ahli winger Ismail Al Hammadi, Jazira centre-back Fares Juma and Al Ain centre-midfielder Amer Abdulrahman.
جانب من تدريبات منتخبنا الوطني في ملعب الشعبة العسكرية.. pic.twitter.com/Kxm30hXbiM— UAE NT (@uaent2019) March 24, 2019
Predecessor Albert Zaccheroni put the Whites on a miserable path to the semi-finals at Asian Cup 2019.
A chronic lack of goals, wins and entertainment defined his miserly 15-month reign. Another key facet was a lack of tactical clarity.
Pre-tournament, the Whites oscillated between a three-man and four-man defence. Experimentation continued at the competition, itself, on home soil, where they used four different formations in six matches and averaged 2.8 changes per line-up.
It is no surprise that fluid football eluded the outmoded Zaccheroni. Van Marwijk’s long-standing commitment to a 4-2-3-1 formation must, in good time, match his consistency of player selection.
REASONS TO BELIEVE
Apathy has pervaded Emirati football.
From the dreary Asian Cup to downgrading in investment that has visibly impacted the Arabian Gulf League, a downturn is undeniable.
It is now up to Van Marwijk to lift the mood, on the pitch and off it.
His introductory press conference gave a glimpse into what is to come. Brusque, self-assured and unflinching in the belief that only a second-ever World Cup-entry will be secured under him.
The Saudis found themselves at a similar low ebb when he was hired in August 2015. An injection of esprit de corps witnessed their 12-year absence from the World Cup ended by September 2017, prior to a shock divorce from the Saudi Arabian Football Federation.
Yet, Van Marwijk is still hailed as a hero in the Kingdom.
They even tried to rehire him before World Cup 2018, despite – apparently insurmountable – differences caused by a reluctance to live there. This speaks volumes.
The only note of caution comes from last year’s unsatisfying six-month stint with Australia. Van Marwijk claimed he “didn’t regret” anything after a group-stage exit at the World Cup, though this view wasn’t unanimous among a national media that criticised conservative selections and tactics.
Omar Abdulrahman has gone from the crown prince of UAE football to comparative stranger.
The success or failure of the 2016 AFC Player of the Year’s reintegration will help define Van Marwijk’s tenure.
Amoory missed Asian Cup 2019 and the November friendlies through serious injury, the preceding summer camp as lengthy negotiations carried on that eventually took him to Saudi heavyweights Al Hilal and the March get together amid an enduring fallout from the breaking of curfew ahead of January 2018’s Gulf Cup final loss to Oman – a showpiece in which he missed two penalties.
Amid this maelstrom, a controversial autumnal interview about the causes of the playmaker’s free transfer away from Al Ain further stoked upset.
At 27-years old, Abdulrahman has age on his side. Recuperation from another anterior cruciate ligament operation should, also, be completed before September’s qualification kick-off.
There is a way back into the fold for Amoory. It is now incumbent on Van Marwijk to find it.