x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A calm coach Abdulwahab Abdulqadir at centre of Ajman's stellar show

On one of the season's most dramatic and tense days, one man, above all others, kept his cool to the very end. This morning Abdulwahab Abdulqadir is Ajman's, indeed Emirati football's, man of the moment.

Abdulwahab Abdulqadir was measured with his emotions. Jaime Puebla / The National
Abdulwahab Abdulqadir was measured with his emotions. Jaime Puebla / The National

For Ajman, who lost the 2010 Etisalat Cup to the same opponents, revenge was a dish best served cold. With an unmistakable orange flavour to it.

Last night's win against Al Jazira will go down as one of UAE football's greatest upsets. And on one of the season's most dramatic and tense days, one man, above all others, kept his cool to the very end. This morning Abdulwahab Abdulqadir is Ajman's, indeed Emirati football's, man of the moment.

Throughout a stunning Etisalat Cup final win over favourites Al Jazira, the Ajman coach's every move was played to perfection.

But first came the setback. Al Jazira captain Ricardo Oliviera finished off an excellent team move to give the Abu Dhabi club a sixth-minute lead.

You feared for the underdogs.

But Abdulqadir kept calm. He stalked the technical area. He pointed and cajoled his player. But never panicked.

His faith was soon repaid. Ajman's response was as wonderful as it was immediate. Al Jazira's big-name stars were simply unable to cope with the speed and movement of the front line of Boris Kabi and Founeke Sy, in particular.

When Sy scored an astonishing overhead equaliser, Ajman's fans erupted. The substitutes and coaching staff leapt from the bench and spilled onto the pitch. But Abdulqadir was bellowing instructions to his celebrating players. The job was only half done.

His rampant team, however, threatened to end the match as a contest in the first half. Kabi's firm header gave them a lead that they never relinquished, but could easily have extended in the closing minutes of the first period.

At the break, Al Jazira's players looked shell-shocked, and no wonder. Ajman had administered a rope-a-dope performance in reverse. In the second, they had to sit back and take what Al Jazira could throw at them.

Having overwhelmed their opponents in the first half with a degree of abandon, it was time for a more measured approach. It allowed Abdulqadir to show off his tactical expertise, and he passed the test with flying colours.

Oliveira hit the post with a header, having also hit the bar in the first half. Matías Delgado ran out of steam and was replaced with Fernandinho on 70 minutes. Ali Mabkhout missed a late opportunity, agonisingly.

And Al Jazira were reduced to lumping ineffective long balls into Ajman's penalty area. In the end, none of it was enough.

As the match edged to its conclusion, Abdulqadir became a little more animated on the touchline. But the Diego Maradona lookalike need not have worried his players were carrying out his instructions to the letter.

When whistle went, 29 years of pent-up frustration exploded from Ajman's fans. It marked the club's first trophy since the 1984 President's Cup. Many were in tears.

Calm to the very last, Abdulqadir showed wonderful class by immediately embracing Al Jazira coach Luis Milla, before turning to applaud his own fans.

As his players carried him on their shoulders, he could afford to enjoy the moment. From today, being the centre of attention will be a far more regular occurrence for Abdulwahab Abdulqadir.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae