x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Drama that left us on the edge of our seats

The President's Cup final proved a real humdinger of a match with end-to-end drama.

Al Jazira's Khamis Esmail Ahmed Ali Alebri of Baniyas fight for the ball during the President´s Cup final at Zayed Sports City. Ravindranath K / The National
Al Jazira's Khamis Esmail Ahmed Ali Alebri of Baniyas fight for the ball during the President´s Cup final at Zayed Sports City. Ravindranath K / The National

You certainly cannot ask much more from your Monday night theatre than that it be something deeply felt, and Monday night at Zayed Sport City kept leaving loud clues of deep feeling.

If that hint had not come before, it certainly barged in just after half time when the Baniyas reserve Nawaf Mubarak, freshly upon the pitch, let loose this thing so beguiling that it froze the goalkeeper and turned the Al Jazira defenders Lucas Neill and Salem Masoud into transfixed witnesses.

When it curled around from the left corner of the box and made its final leftward veer into the right edge of the goal, that sense of consequence came fast, in a great blare of noise from the Baniyas end.

Mubarak made his way over there, off the pitch and on to the tarpaulin and in front of the people, and the only setback in the whole celebration was the sudden glitch when the Emirati who had just equalised the match went unequal on balance and plopped on his backside.

Even in that, he managed a certain grace.

You could feel the entire meaning of the occasion in the great Baniyas noise.

Just like that, the whole thing was in doubt, the feeling justifying what Caio Junior, the Al Jazira manager, would say afterward: "It was possible to lose the match."

It was possible to see just about anything, and Baniyas would supply the more picturesque attempts at winning over the ensuing minutes.

Even in the unusual turn that came about 20 minutes later, the urgency prevailed ultimately. After Al Jazira's Matias Delgado crashed heads inadvertently with Baniyas' Fawaz Awana Al Musa, and the medical unit motored on to the pitch, and the players around the fallen Delgado developed cringes as they motioned for help, the 38,720 waited rather quietly from the 67th minute to the middle of the 71st, while a prone Delgado received attention.

In the next burst of meaning, the meaning wound up roaring again.

First, Delgado stood up with his head wrapped in a bandage, as if auditioning for some role as an extra in a war film. The accessory almost looked worth donning as a choice, as some sort of emblem of want.

Both sides wanted this deeply, and Delgado played on, and Ricardo Oliveira lined up his free kick, and …

And that blast managed to stray somewhere through the calves and knees and tibias and femurs of the wall, hurrying all the way to a spot where goalkeeper Mohamed Khalef could only flick it with a glove.

When it nudged behind the left post into the net, the audience at the theatre almost seemed puzzled for a second.

Then Oliveira and mates went rambling off the pitch into one of the festive zones in front of the fans, and a good clamour loosed from the opposite corner from before.

One moment, a hush awaited the treatment of an injured player; the next, the whole thing had turned back the other way.

It was the kind of strange moment that reminds you that the 3-1 scores of the world come in all different forms, from the 3-1 dominances (see Barcelona versus Manchester United, last May) to the 3-1 that hinged on a quirky moment.

"I think we really have bad luck," said the Baniyas midfielder Francisco Yeste.

Baniyas still aggressed beautifully from there, particularly with Amer Al Hammadi's gorgeous 89th-minute cross to Andre Senghor's head which forced one of Ali Kasheif's good saves, but when the match unleashed one final bit of evidence of its significance, it did so in counter-attack.

Just then, Ibrahim Diaky sent a dream of a long ball to Ahmed Ali Mubarak to lend his reserve teammate a dream of a moment.

Indeed, Emirati kids of various ages might dream of being Mubarak, of sprinting just ahead of the defence, collecting the ball and finishing such that, had you done it yourself, you might watch on YouTube every morning from here on.

Another deeply felt President's Cup night was about to meet its clinching, and it was about to do so when Jazira's Mubarak instinctively found the way to navigate two adapting defenders and one waiting goalkeeper, all by moving to his left across the box, eyeballing a shaft of light between the defenders and playing some misdirection. All in a whoosh he capitalised on the goalkeeper's shift right and shipped the ball back into the right edge of the goal.

When he finished finishing and scrambled over to yet another corner of the stadium to the fans, well, it would be hard to feel happier for anyone. As Al Jazira employees hugged in clots all over the place, that guy had just put the crown on a night full of feeling.