If this was the last time Cosmin Olaroiu would be seen patrolling the touchline in the UAE, he leaves without a fitting ending.
Hopes of a first President’s Cup success during five years as the country’s dominant coach and a double this term with Al Ahli were killed by resurgent Al Jazira, who had a ruthlessly-taken hat-trick from 29-goal forward Ali Mabkhout to thank for their spot in next Sunday’s final.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi were everything the favourites were not during this 3-2 last-four triumph. They were biting in the tackle, concise with the ball and lethal in front of goal.
Only the Arabian Gulf League champions’ inner sanctum will know how big a role the continued doubts about their omnipotent bosses’ future played on Friday night.
When pressed on the issue after an uncharacteristically limp display at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium, Olaroiu declined to further reveal his thoughts.
He tartly replied: “Any game for a coach can be the last.”
For the 46-year-old, a drop in focus in the city he managed in from 2011-13 was behind the loss.
He added: “We couldn’t do everything we wanted, didn’t play with the spirit we wanted to.
“We were close to playing the final, but we should take a look at the full season in the performances we gave. Maybe in this region when you win, a lot of things affect you.”
For the victors, a campaign headed towards an unexpected relegation in December after the disastrous re-appointment of Abel Braga now promises a happy ending under replacement Henk ten Cate. Fallen giants have risen, with Bani Yas or Al Ain now standing in the way of silverware.
“We now go to the final and will try to win it,” the 61-year-old, voice hoarse from the exertion. “If we do, it will probably be my greatest achievement as a coach.
“We scored three fantastic goals with Mabkhout. But it was a fantastic team effort, especially considering where we came from.”
Mabkhout needed a spill from UAE No1 Majed Nasser on 15 minutes to pilfer the opener, following up Thiago Neves’ tame free-kick.
It was not long before an undeserved and controversial leveller. Forward Ahmed Khalil took an age to go down under minimal contact from right-back Sultan Al Suwaidi, allowing record-buy Moussa Sow to show no mercy from the penalty spot.
Jazira refused to be downhearted and a stunning header from Mabkhout put them back in front before the break.
Daylight was earned on 56 minutes. A cutting one-two between South Korea midfielder Park Jong-woo – who set up the second with a deep free-kick – and Mabkhout ended with the latter delicately dinking over the on-rushing Nasser.
The expected siege came with only minutes left, Sow tapping in a second from a scruffy set-piece.
Jazira are not known for exhibiting a backbone, but they then held firm to gain a shot at a first trophy since the 2012 edition.
Know more about Sport360 Application
Silverware for Spanish Soccer Schools has come in the Under-8, Under-10 and Under-12 leagues, marking its dominance in youth football tournaments across the country.
The first youth league of its kind in the UAE, the Private Academies League was formed in order to provide a competitive playing stage to private youth football academies in the region.
Also involved were the Double Kick Sports Academy, the Royal Football Academy Sharjah, Sport4All Academy UAE, the TFA Academy, Tigers Soccer Academy and the Pro Sports Academy, among others.
Two academies in association with Spanish Primera Liga clubs also feature in the league: FC Barcelona Escola Dubai and the RCD Espanyol Academy in the UAE.
“Three years ago, we’d just begun our journey towards transforming football in the UAE, and we’d never thought we’d reach such heights in such a short amount of time,” said former Real Madrid and Spain legend Michel Salgado who is director of football at Football Academy, Dubai Sports City.
Spanish Soccer Schools - campeones U8, U10 and U12s UAE FA Private Academies League. 3 de3 competiciones. Orgulloso pic.twitter.com/eQnrCKtJcK— Michel Salgado (@TheRealSalgado) May 8, 2016
“For us to be included in a pilot programme by the UAE Football Association which is geared towards developing sports in the region is a huge honour.
“The Emirates have invested plenty of resources towards the development of sports, and this next step shows that there is a very high level of inclusivity here for players from all walks of life.
“I would like to thank the UAE FA for their steps in this direction, and we cannot wait to be part of other youth development opportunities that they introduce.”
Al Jazira head coach Henk ten Cate has described his side’s President’s Cup clash with Sharjah as “do or die”.
It’s been a wretched campaign for the Pride of Abu Dhabi, who slumped to a seventh-placed league finish.
That followed on from an admirable second-placed finish last season under Belgian Eric Gerets.
Jazira were expected to go one better this season under returning hero Abel Braga, but the Brazilian was sacked in December following a miserable homecoming which yielded just three wins in 16 games in all competitions.
Dutchman Ten Cate has steadied the ship in 2016 and insists his team are determined to stake a claim for redemption in the competition.
“The team is very hungry, determined to do something,” said Ten Cate, who has steered Jazira towards a semblance of respectability since replacing Braga in December.
“The team wants to win something and this is our only way to do so.
“We are ready to play a tough opponent, who are well organised and structured. It’s the cup which is always different as it’s one game, a knockout.
“The way we play I don’t care, it’s about the result and we have to take a result. It’s do or die. Either we go to the semi-finals or we go home.”
Jazira signed off for the Arabian Gulf League season on Sunday with a 1-0 home victory against Al Dhafra, with only one foreign signing, Thiago Neves in the starting 11.
Kenwyne Jones, Park Jong-woo and Angel Lafita started on the bench, but Ten Cate claimed he neither favours his foreign or Emirati contingent, with only promising youngster Ahmed Rabeya not in contention for today’s game.
“I don’t look at foreign, local, old or young players, I will pick the best team,” said Ten Cate ahead of the game at Al Ain’s Khalifa bin Zayed Stadium.
“It can be with one, four or no foreigners. The ones who show best form in games and in training will play. I don’t have a preference for foreigners. I only look at who’s good, If you’re good you will play. The best players will play, the best team will play.”
The King narrowly avoided relegation, but Ten Cate is expecting a stern test, and singled Brazilian striker Wanderley out for praise.
The 27-year-old scored 15 goals in 26 AGL games this season.
“They have good people up front, especially Wanderley. He is very solid, works hard but can also create. He scored 15 goals and it is something to think about,” said Ten Cate, who said the fact Jazira have played more games than Sharjah this season will actually benefit his side.
“I will only see this as an advantage, playing more games,” he said.
“Since Sharjah last time we have improved a lot. We drew 2-2 in my second game but team has improved a lot. We’re positive about a good result but cannot underestimate them. We need to fight and work hard.”