DUBAI // Try telling Ajman that the Etisalat Cup is UAE football’s black sheep, a trinket that does not sparkle quite as brightly as its silverware siblings.
There they were, having deservedly defeated Al Jazira in the final at Al Wasl’s Zabeel Stadium, dancing and singing in front of their jubilant fans, newly crowned champions of a competition for only the second time in their 39-year history.
Perhaps spurred on by their underdogs tag, or the fierce stimulus of revenge, the Orange Brigade outplayed and outclassed their loftier rivals to secure a first title since the 1984 President’s Cup.
“There are no words to describe this, this, a historic win,” said a visibly emotional Driss Fettouhi, the Moroccan whose father had travelled from his homeland to offer support.
Fettouhi, a midfielder, arrived at the club in January, but has steadily built a reputation as one of the country’s most accomplished playmakers.
Here, he cemented his standing, serving as a constant menace to the Jazira defence.
“I want to thank everyone in Ajman: the fans, players and management who welcomed me here like a brother,” he said, marvelling at Ajman’s ability to push aside an early Ricardo Oliveira strike and seal the trophy.
“We came back from being down … we never give up. We gave everything for 90 minutes, it’s our spirit that made us win today.”
Of course, Ajman have been close to such success before, as recently as 2010, when they battled for the same title, against the very same opponents, only to disappear dejected after a late Jazira rally.
They appeared predictably determined last night in their quest for retribution, and quickly regrouped from their early setback to score two goals of considerable class.
Separated by 11 minutes at the heart of the first half, each sent their devotees into delirium.
Draped in bright orange, there was a touch of “Total Football” about both, with Founeke Sy contorting his body in meeting Fawzi Bashir’s precise cross to acrobatically slam a volley past Ali Kasheif.
If that strike evoked memories of Marco van Basten in his pomp, then the second conjured recollections of his celebrated strike partner.
Boris Kabi may not bear the trademark Ruud Gullit dreadlocks, yet the Ajman captain, too, knows how to make best use of his head, nodding powerfully into the bottom corner. Kasheif stood rooted to his line.
By now, Ajman’s support were in raptures, Kabi again raising the roof with a sublime somersault.
The Ivorian has spoken before about his difficulty in accepting that 2010 defeat, however this time he would be greeted at the final whistle with the Etisalat man-of-the-match award.
“I want to thank everyone: the club’s leadership, our coach, our management and the people of Ajman,” Kabi said. “I like this cup, and I wanted to win this cup. Al Jazira are a very difficult team to beat, but we did it.”
Indeed, Jazira twice trembled the woodwork, but there always seemed only one winner.
While Kabi, Sy and Fettouhi will rightfully collect the majority of the plaudits, there were other heroes in Fawzi Bashir, creator of the equaliser and a chief protagonist, and Abdulwahab Abdulqadir, the victorious coach.
“I feel incredible joy, I must thank my fellow players and the fans,” Bashir said.
“We attacked smartly, and we defended smartly, and I thought Abdulwahab won the tactical battle. We knew how to deal with a cup final situation and we managed to beat a very good team,” he added.
So Ajman will conclude their 2012/13 campaign later this month as cup winners and, perhaps more importantly, Pro League survivalists.
Top-flight status may be deemed more significant once the dust has settled on a remarkable triumph, although for now the little-fancied side with the big heart should be allowed their time in the spotlight.
“I thank the players for this gift to me and the emirate of Ajman,” Abdulqadir said, his appreciation echoed by orange-clad fans dancing off into the Dubai night.
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