It’s been easy to forget that Al Nasr have the biggest game in their history to play tonight.
The row surrounding Wanderley’s passport has become all consuming ahead of the AFC Champions League quarter-final decider, dominating both boss Ivan Jovanovic’s statesmanlike pre-match press conference and the many tweets sent out from the aggrieved club’s official Twitter account.
This rage – controlled when it came from the Serbian supremo’s lips – must be corralled. If this can be done successfully, the ‘miracle of Al Maktoum Stadium’ can occur.
For the uninitiated, Brazil-born summer buy Wanderley enjoyed a dream debut in last month’s 3-0 first-leg triumph at El Jaish when he scored twice on an Indonesian passport.
But officials from the southeast Asian-nation subsequently labelled the documents which saw him registered as the Asian player in the four-man foreign quota as “forged or falsified”, with the situation rapidly escalating from there.
This alerted the Asian Football Confederation, who provisionally banned the 27-year-old striker for 60 days on September 2.
Most egregiously for those of a Blue Wave-persuasion, the governing body followed this up on Monday, 48 hours before the second leg, with a declaration that the opener was a forfeit – meaning the emphatic scoreline was reversed in the Qatari’s favour.
The call means the Blue Wave have gone from runaway favourites to extend their historic first foray into the competition’s knockout stages, to the cusp of elimination. No team in the tournament’s history has recovered from such a cavernous first-leg disadvantage.
No matter the success of a promised appeal, the immediate situation is a bleak one. Yet they cannot think all hope is lost or chose to retreat into a sense of injustice. Destiny can be wrestled back into their hands.
There were enough positive signs witnessed in Doha to think a magical result can, somehow, be attained. Nasr dominated from kick-off to the final whistle. This was a performance defined by far more than Wanderley’s brace.
Centre-back Mubarak Saeed was supreme, utilising his class on and off the ball to dominate opponent Romarinho. He was matched on either flanks by swashbuckling full-backs Mahmoud Khamis and Ahmed Al Yassi, with the continuing snub of the pair by UAE coach Mahdi Ali becoming ever-more mystifying.
Stalwart Tariq Ahmed excelled when pushed up into the playmaker position, his sweeping ball to spark the opener majestic. Behind him, all-action anchorman Khalid Jalal justified his recent introduction into the national set-up.
Jaish simply had no answer to the men from Al Maktoum. Not even the introduction of Barcelona icon Seydou Keita at half-time could save them.
Further credit for the result comes from the fact it was attained without star forward Jires Kembo Ekoko. The ex-Jaish loanee was forced to watch on from the stands because of suspension.
الحصة التدريبية الاخيرة لفريقنا الاول لكرة القدم على ستاد ال مكتوم قبل مواجهة النصر الاماراتي. pic.twitter.com/cuHcLaBUOC— Eljaish Sports Club (@EljaishSC) September 13, 2016
Filling in up top is not alien to him. During legendary centre forward Asamoah Gyan’s injury prone final 2014/15 campaign at Al Ain, he slotted home 11 goals in 17 Arabian Gulf League games when regularly utilised there.
Such form made his recruitment that summer by the Blue Wave a smart one. He might have gone on to strike only nine times in 22 top-flight games in Dubai, yet this was done with the constraints of a winger imposed on him.
Despite all these factors, Nasr’s greatest weapon is in the dugout. Jovanovic is a master of cup competitions, leading Cypriot minnows APOEL to the last-eight in the 2011/12 UEFA Champions League and then lifting three trophies in his current role.
His nuanced delivery in the preamble was perfectly formulated, striking a balance between dignified and indignant.
The Nasr players must now heed the words of their coach and conjure up a similarly-supreme display this evening.
The Brazilian winger showed why The Boss bought him in the summer, capping off a strong performance at Bunyodkor Stadium with a first-half strike. That proved to be the only goal of the two-legged tie as the Garden City club entered the last-four stage for the second time in three seasons.
After being held at home three weeks ago by the Uzbekistani outfit, Zlatko Dalic’s troops knew the stern task ahead. The Uzbek League leaders were unbeaten in their last 27 home matches, winning all their five previous games.
But the 2003 Champions League winners started brightly with Danilo Asprilla enjoying much possession but with no real end product.
In a scrappy opening 15 minutes, Lokomotiv gradually found their rhythm. It was not until the 22nd minute that Khaled Essa was called into action, denying Timur Kapadze’s low effort.
The hosts, playing in a half-packed stadium, pushed forward with Essa again needing to stop Temurkhuja Abdukholikov’s lame shot.
Al Ain’s real first chance came just after the half-hour mark. Asprilla turned away from his marker and his diagonal pass-shot had too much weight for Douglas to tap in.
But the home fans were silenced as Dalic’s men got their reward in the 39th minute.
Caio went on a bombing run and superbly set up Douglas, whose shot was blocked by Kakhi Makharadze. The ball then went back into Caio’s path, with the €3 million (Dh12.4m) purchase from Japan’s Kashima Antlers slotting home for the all-important away goal.
Despite needing at least two to progress, Lokomotiv began the second half cautiously. But it was the visitors who should have been celebrating.
Caio, dangerous on the left flank, found Asprilla with plenty of space but the Colombian winger smashed his shot straight at goalkeeper Ignatiy Nesterov.
That was the wake-up call Lokomotiv needed and they nearly got their equaliser when defender Nemanja Janicic hit the crossbar from a corner on 63 minutes.
Substitute Ikromjon Alibaev tried his luck from long range but his effort was punched away by Essa.
Both coaches brought in new faces but Asprilla continued to be a threat before being replaced by Mohamed Abdulrahman.
When Al Nasr summer signing Wanderley struck twice in the first leg of the Asian Champions League quarter-final last month, you can be sure a few players across the region came over in a sweat. Days later the governing body meted out a suspension to the Brazilian, bringing the issue of fake passports in Asia to the fore.
The Dubai club overpowered El Jaish of Qatar 3-0 thanks to Wanderley’s brace, putting a foot and three toes in the last four of Asia’s premier club competition. The United Arab Emirates have not had a champion since the inaugural edition in 2003 and Nasr have never been this deep in the competition in their entire history. But now, they have a real chance.
But Wanderley’s superb display raised interest in a subject that has been bubbling below the surface for some time. There are a growing number of Brazilian-born players plying their trade on the continent that have dubious Asian nationality.
Jack Kerr of Sports Integrity Initiative has been looking closely at the case of Timor Leste. The Southeast Asian country has been naturalising Brazilians left, right and centre and seven such players were fielded in a 2015 World Cup qualifier against Palestine.
The Palestine Football Association made an official complaint against FIFA. So far, little has been done.
People are still wondering what exactly made those Brazilians Timorese and similar questions have now been raised about Wanderley, with the AFC investigating the former Sharjah striker over his alleged Indonesian nationality.
His double against El Jaish was the catalyst. Firstly, it got Indonesia excited. The country has only just come out of a FIFA-imposed ban that lasted a year. This is perhaps the most passionate football nation in Asia and is desperate for success, any success.
Indonesian clubs do not participate in the Asian Champions League so the news of one of their countrymen scoring twice in the last eight of the tournament made people take notice. It was only going to be a matter of time before he was called up.
Sport360 asked Indonesian national team coach Alfred Riedl at the time whether he was interested in selecting the striker, playing in a league of a higher standard than any in Southeast Asia. The Austrian replied that it would be difficult as his club would never release the player for non FIFA dates, of which there are many in Southeast Asia.
More intrigue followed, with Riedl saying he knew nothing of the player, a sentiment felt by many, if not all, observers in Indonesia.
And here’s the rub. The questions asked in the media about Wanderley started to be thrown in the direction of the country’s Justice Ministry. On August 31, officials held a press conference to say that Indonesia had never issued a passport to the Al Nasr striker. In short, they said the documents were fake.
It is difficult to see the AFC coming to a different conclusion and it is also unlikely that the investigation will take the 60 days that the organisation originally stated.
From the outside looking in, the case seems pretty open and shut. The big question is unlikely to not be whether the documents are genuine or Wanderley is eligible to play in these games, how this situation came about.
If it turns out that the club was involved then the consequences for Nasr could be severe. The one bright spot is that El Jaish are the only international opposition that Wanderley has played against in the tournament. There is no trail of clubs that the Brazilian faced in the group stage that would be waiting.
If it were to be found that the player was acting on his own then the club may escape serious punishment.
There is, importantly, a wider issue that needs addressing. The investigation is not stopping at Wanderley and it shouldn’t do.
There are two other players active in Asia, born in Brazil and have acquired Asian nationality. The AFC declined to name them when asked by Sport360 but one thing is for sure, there are plenty of candidates around.
Wanderley’s two goals may have come on one of the greatest nights in Al Nasr’s history, but the Asian-wide recognition that is coming the way of the club is more negative in sentiment and not centred around their historic progress on the pitch. And not only did those efforts write new history for the club, it may well alter the entire landscape of football across the continent.