DUBAI // If the evaluation of Al Wahda's game last night is limited to whether it moved them forward in the President's Cup, then it was "mission accomplished". But in a broader context it was an unsatisfying, even alarming performance.
Wahda dispatched toothless little Masafi of Fujairah, a side from the lowest division in UAE league football, 2-0 with goals by Hamdan al Kamali and Abdulraheem Jumaa to advance to the semi-finals of the national club championship, a competition second in importance domestically only to the Pro League.
But Wahda were disjointed, erratic and even a bit dispirited in dismissing Masafi, who were still in the competition only because Al Ain's 3-0 last-16 victory over them was overturned because the Abu Dhabi club used an ineligible player.
"I know that our performance was not good at all, and for that reason I am happy we were playing Masafi, with all due respect," said Josef Hickersberger, the Wahda coach. "They were the right opponent at the right time."
The Austrian conceded his side were a bit unhinged by two Pro League defeats last week, a controversial 2-1 home loss to Al Ahli and a feckless 5-3 defeat at bottom-of-the-table Kalba.
"Losing to Ahli was a shock, and then Kalba turned into a nightmare. The players did not only lose the game, they lost a lot of confidence," he added.
Hickersberger will be looking to rebuild that confidence in the next few days because his side, the defending Pro League champions, open their Asian Champions League campaign at home against Bunyodkor of Uzbekistan on Wednesday.
In the game at Al Wasl's ground, Wahda played without Ismail Matar, their playmaker serving a one-game ban for accruing three yellow cards, the Brazilian midfielder Magrao and the injured defender Basheer Saeed.
Hickersberger expects all of them to be available for the clash with Bunyodkor.
Wahda never looked sharp, but lesser opponents often bring the game to their level. Hickersberger was complaining about Masafi time wasting almost from the kick-off, and Masafi's players did seem extraordinarily fragile, at least for a minute or three, until they revived.
In the absence of Matar, Abdulraheem Jumaa and Fahed Masoud carried the burden of running the attack, and they were generally effective, working the ball forward to the Brazilians Hugo and Fernando Baiano.
Baiano was singled out for special attention, rarely moving without a Masafi defender within a metre of him.
The big Brazilian, who has never looked like the fittest man in the Pro League, seemed heavier than usual and sluggish, as well. He was not a factor in the game, though Masafi's close marking had something to do with that.
"He is not fit," Hickersberger said. "He has problems with his groin. I hope he will come back and play like the man who scored four goals in one half against Ajman."
Both of Wahda's goals came from set pieces, one in the 22nd minute and the clincher in the 54th.
The game then descended into something resembling a farce, with Masafi players falling to the turf every few minutes.
When Mohammed Abdullah, the Masafi goalkeeper, began writhing on the ground for perhaps the third time, Wahda fans shouted in protest at what they felt was time-wasting.
Saif Sultan, the Sharjah police officer who is the Masafi coach, said he employed a five-man back line because he hoped for a scoreless game that could be decided in a shoot-out. He knew as well as anyone how limited his attack was.
Again, Masafi failed to put a shot on goal, as had been their fate against Al Ain. And while Wahda no doubt preferred the nearly preordained result of a match with Masafi, it did little for them in sharpening their edge for the Asian Champions League match on Wednesday.
Also last night, Francisco Yeste scored in the 61st minute to lift Al Wasl to a 1-0 victory over Al Ahli in a Dubai derby played at the Al Shabab club.
The Spaniard made a fine individual effort at close quarters, turning himself near the touchline and putting the ball between the goalkeeper's legs.
Ahli played without coach David O'Leary in the dugout. The Irishman was suspended for three games and fined Dh4,000 by the disciplinary committee of the UAE FA "for his undue objections and abuses against the decision of the referee" in Ahli's 2-1 victory at Wahda, according to the committee.
Al Jazira meet Emirates, the President's Cup holders, at the Al Ahli club at 5.30pm in the first of two quarter-final matches tonight.
Emirates, the Ras al Khaimah side, won the trophy last year despite being relegated from the Pro League.
In the late game, Al Shabab face the First Division side Al Dhaid at 8.30pm at the Sharjah club ground.