DUBAI // In four Etisalat Cup matches, Juan Manuel Olivera had featured just once on the scoresheet. Mariano Donda had scored four of Al Wasl's nine goals in those matches and Eissa Ali three.
The lanky Uruguayan was clearly under pressure as Diego Maradona went looking for another striker in the transfer market. Fans did not seem very impressed either.
Last night, though, Olivera dusted off his goal-scoring boots and brought them out, on his first game in the Pro League, and then performed the hat-trick dance, scoring all three for Wasl in a convincing 3-0 triumph over Sharjah.
The South American opened the score from the penalty spot in the 16th minute, after winning the spot kick himself, and added two more in the second half as Wasl brought the smiles back for their fans after a 5-0 drubbing at Dubai in their last game.
This win would have gone some way to salvaging Maradona's pride as well after last week's humiliating defeat.
However, his opposite number knows he still has a lot of work to do. Even as the referee blew his whistle to begin the match, Valeriu Tita, the Sharjah coach, was biting his fingernails in the dugout.
After losing the last two Etisalat Cup matches, the Romanian will have been hoping for a winning start to Sharjah's league campaign.
Wasl made five changes to the side beaten by Dubai. Majed Nasser returned from his national team duty to take over in goalfrom Rashid Ali; Edson Puch, the Chilean, was benched along with Mubarak Hasan and Ali Rabea, while Waheed Ismail, Mohammed Jamal and Saoud Saeed were handed starts. Tariq Hassan also made it to the starting XI, while Hassan Ali had been ruled out with an injury.
The changes seemed to work. The cute, short-passing game was shelved and long balls were cannoned in to the Sharjah penalty area. Wasl looked in charge and Olivera seemed sharp from the off.
Perhaps it was the sight of Richard Porta - a possible teammate and probable rival for a starting berth - in the stands. The Uruguayan-Australian striker has finally arrived in Dubai and he underwent his medical yesterday.
Olivera first got into action in the seventh minute, heading a ball back into the path of Eissa Ali, but the Wasl captain blasted high over the goal. The Uruguayan then hit the post in the 12th minute from distance, but got on the score sheet four minutes later, converting from the spot.
Olivera had earned the debatable penalty when a clever twist caused Suleiman Al Mughanni to drag him down.
Mariano Donda came very close to doubling Wasl's tally in the 49th minute with a free kick. He curled his shot from outside the box and the fans were on their feet celebrating before they realised he had missed the mark by a whisker.
Donda, however, did give the fans more to cheer about in the 56th minute. The Argentine drew all the defenders and the Sharjah goalkeeper as he waded into the box, before flicking the ball across for Olivera to tap home.
There was more joy for Olivera when Puch, coming off the bench a couple of minutes earlier, headed the ball on for the striker, who raced ahead and fired home to complete his hat-trick in the 71st minute. Puch and Olivera had played together at Universidad de Chile. Now they are teaming up in the UAE in what looks like it will be a lively season under Maradona.
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