The Abu Dhabi derby between Al Wahda and Al Jazira is a match that has it all — passion, proximity and history.
Al Wahda v Al Jazira: the derby match that has it all
Most great football rivalries share the same handful of combustible ingredients: proximity, familiarity, history. The Pro League's top rivalry, the Abu Dhabi derby between Al Wahda and Al Jazira, which resumes tomorrow night at Al Nahyan Stadium, has it all. In spades.
Proximity? The clubs are located about two kilometres apart. Familiarity? They have been playing each other since 1974. History? More big games than we can mention, so we will review only from the 2004/05 season, though long-time island residents suggest the rivalry was most heated - in the stands, certainly - in the 1990s.
Fans at Jazira know that their club, maddeningly, have never won the two most important championships in the UAE, the league and the President's Cup. It is a sad tale of "whatever can go wrong will go wrong … and often at Wahda's hands".
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2005. Jazira finished third in the league; Wahda won the championship.
2006: Jazira finished third, two points behind winners Al Ahli, and Wahda's 5-1 victory at Jazira, fuelled by Darko Mitrifich's two goals, denied Jazira three points that could have made them champions.
2007: Jazira were third, Wahda second.
2008: Jazira placed second, three points behind Al Shabab. The three points that could have taken them to the top were lost 2-1 away to Wahda.
2009: Jazira finished one point behind Ahli at the top of the table, and they left two points at Wahda when Ismail Matar scored in the 87th minute to give Wahda a 1-1 draw. Also, Wahda knocked out Jazira in the President's Cup in a 4-2 quarter-final penalty shoot-out.
2010: Jazira lost only once all season, but it was away to Wahda 2-1 on February 14, the day that Wahda took the league lead and never lost it en route to their fifth league championship. To make it more painful, Fernando Baiano, the Jazira player who had moved to Wahda, scored both goals in the game for the winners.
And here they are again, at Wahda for an 8.30pm kick-off.
Much is at stake. Jazira have not lost in the league since their last visit to the Al Nahyan Stadium, 21 matches ago, notching 16 wins and five draws. Jazira would not mind being the first UAE club to record an unbeaten league campaign; they have won 11 and drawn two this season.
Tellingly, one of their ties was to Wahda, a scoreless draw at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. It comes as no surprise that Jazira have had trouble defeating their neighbours. They have not won at Wahda since 2006, and their composite record against them since 2004/05 is a modest 6-2-5.
One difference this season is Wahda's struggles; they lost 5-3 away to Kalba in their most recent Pro League match, and at 5-3-5 are 18 points behind Jazira in the table.
Tomorrow, however, presents them with a chance to slow Jazira's charge to that first league championship which, should Wahda triumph, will seem far less inevitable if Baniyas win on Saturday to slice Jazira's lead to four points with eight games to play.
Wahda at times have seemed weary during a season with two coaching changes and three high-pressure games in the Fifa Club World Cup. Baiano has been in and out of the line-up with a sore groin, and scoring has become an issue.
Their coach, Josef Hickersberger, said Wahda will not worry about saving anyone for matches later in the year. Not when it is Jazira coming to their house.
"Al Jazira is the big derby for us and for all Wahda fans so I cannot imagine that some players will want to be rested," he said. "All players want to play against Jazira."
This will not be the end of the Jazira-Wahda contretemps this season; they meet next month in the President's Cup final.