Carlos Villanueva and Mariano Donda are not the mirror image of the other. The former is short and compact and boasts a fine mop of hair; the latter is of medium build and shaves his head. But the importance each South American playmaker carries as creator and engine to their clubs is clear to be seen on the pitch as well as in the Pro League table.
Al Wasl's woes since Donda went out with an injury have been documented. Eight points from four league games with him in the line-up; two in five since. But Shabab's struggles without Villanueva have been at least as dramatic, if not as often mentioned.
The Chilean suffered a major cruciate ligament tear in a match with Wasl on March 29, a season-ending injury overshadowed by Diego Maradona charging into the VIP stand at the Maktoum Stadium. Wasl's former coach called Shabab fans "cowards" that night, but the real damage to the club was Villanueva's ruined knee, which he continues to rehabilitate.
Ahead of the team's match-up last night, Shabab had won only two of 13 league games since Villanueva was carried off the pitch, and even their much needed 2-1 victory over Wasl did not suggest a corner had been turned.
Shabab managed only one goal of their own, a crisp header by Edgar Bruno off a corner with seven minutes to play. Their first was an own goal by Wasl's Ali Abbas, on an earlier corner.
The home team were a bit more dangerous throughout, particularly with Ciel raiding up the right flank, but Wasl had a few good chances, too, as Shikabala offered his own version of right-side energy. Each team were hopeless in midfield, unable to mount even primitive connections.
Wasl's goal came when Shikabala drifted into the middle of the pitch and slipped a pass forward to Rashid Essa.
The UAE national tapped it to the Uruguayan forward Emiliano Alfaro, and he dragged it from behind him and into the goal with his left foot to create a brief 1-1 score line.
The victory was more than just a psychic salve for Shabab, who had not won since the season opener. They began the night only one point above the relegation zone, a shocking state of affairs for one of the country's biggest clubs, who will play in the Asian Champions League four months hence. They are likely to struggle, however, until Villanueva comes back, and the same is true for Wasl and Donda.
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