DUBAI // Back in August, when Al Wasl announced Mariano Donda as their new foreign recruit, many would have wondered, "Donda who?"
Playing for Godoy Cruz, a modest side in the Argentine league, he was virtually an unknown entity and struggled to get enough newsprint as the likes of David Trezeguet, Asamoah Gyan, Grafite and Luis Jimenez hogged the headlines.
Less than two months into the season, though, the Argentine would be the unanimous choice in any poll to pick the most influential player of the league. Announcing his arrival with a hat-trick at Jazira on his debut here, Donda has only enhanced his reputation since, building on it on Wednesday night with an outstanding effort for Diego Maradona's team.
Donda's treble in the Etisalat Cup opener was in vain as Bare struck the winner for Jazira four minutes into injury time; his tireless efforts were not enough on Wednesday night as well. Another Argentine, Matias Delgado, stole the limelight with a 54th-minute winner for Jazira.
A single goal might not seem a good return for a game that was being hailed as an early championship decider, but there was enough entertainment to keep the packed stands in high spirits.
Fireworks lit up the night sky as both the teams made their way to the pitch. And then the fireworks started on the pitch. Barely a second into the game, Ricardo Oliveira sprinted down the left and crossed for Matias Delgado, who had Majed Nasser, the Wasl keeper, diving desperately to his right.
A misunderstanding between Khalid Essa, the Jazira keeper, and one of his defenders in the seventh minute then raised the excitement levels of the home fans, with Rashid Essa chasing the ball and empty goal in front; Salem Masoud, however, was first to get there and he cleared the ball.
Essa could have done better in the 18th minute as well, when Donda put him in the clear on the right of the box, but the Wasl winger shot meekly into the Jazira keeper.
Essa was then off-side in the 30th minute when he received a Donda chip; he crossed the ball for Juan Manuel Olivera and the Uruguayan booted it home, but the linesman had already raised his flag and the Wasl fans were forced to gasp on their celebrations.
Luckless in front of the goal, Wasl, however, were in control of the game. Ahmed Darwish and Yaser Salem looked a bit shaky in defence, but Bare and Oliveira were not given much leeway. Donda's bustling runs and precision passing was the highlight of that period.
With Oliveira and Bare silent, Abdullah Moosa, as he so often does, surprised the Wasl defence with a sneaky run from the left in the 37th minute and almost beat keeper Nasser with his volley.
Nasser did well again in the 49th minute with a spectacular dive to block Ibrahim Diaky's weighted volley. The UAE international, however, could do little in the 54th minute, despite another desperate attempt as Delgado blasted in the opening goal of the night.
Receiving a clever cross from Diaky at the top of the box, Delgado managed to pierce the crowded box and put the visitors ahead.
Three minutes later, Ahmed Darwish almost equalised the scores with a Delgado-like effort, but Jazira keeper Essa covered the ball well and, though failing to collect it cleanly, he got to the rebound before the lurking Rashid Essa could.
A goal down, Maradona decided to send in his two foreigners on the bench - Edson Puch and Richard Porta. Saoud Saeed and Rashid Essa, who had earlier put the ball into the back of the net after using his hand, were pulled out.
The two newcomers, however, could do little to change the trend. A goal up, Jazira, with experienced campaigners across the pitch, were not going to give the ball away easily and Wasl had to come up with something exceptional.
Donda almost managed that in the 76th minute, chipping the ball towards the goal from the top of the box, but Jazira keeper Essa jumped high to palm it away. Jazira and Essa survived another tense examination in the 79th minute when the goalkeeper punched back an Essa Ali header and the defenders converged to deflect an Olivera volley over the post.
There were a few more tame efforts in the closing minutes, but Jazira used all the tricks in the book to return home with three points, including a bit of playacting to waste crucial minutes.
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