x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Edgar Bruno an example of superiority no guarantee for victory

It is not often you score three goals in a cup final and end up on the losing side, a tragic hero.

Al Shabab's Edgar Bruno scored two goals against Al Ahli but was responsible for the all-important goal that cost his side the title. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Shabab's Edgar Bruno scored two goals against Al Ahli but was responsible for the all-important goal that cost his side the title. Satish Kumar / The National

The first Mexican wave came as early as the 20th minute, always a sign of match heading toward a forgone conclusion.

The President's Cup final at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium seemed to be over before many of the latecomers had even taken their seats.

Already, Al Ahli's wonderfully colourful fans were in a party mood. And no wonder.

Strikes by Adnan Al Beloshi and Brazilian captain Grafite saw the Pro League runners-up race to a two-goal lead in the opening 15 minutes.

Grafite looked utterly dominant, and an embarrassment looked in the cards for Al Shabab. In the grandstand, Fabio Cannavaro, a former Al Ahli captain and Italy's World Cup-winning skipper, nodded his approval.

But they all overlooked the stunning impact of another Brazilian in what turned out to be one of the greatest finals in the competition's history.

Edgar Bruno, Al Shabab's giant striker, towered, quite literally at times, over all others.

In a different era, the Brazilian would have been romantically compared to an old-fashioned English centre forward, and not just for his Victorian-sounding name. So dominant was he in the air last night, Al Ahli's defenders simply had no answer to his power and movement.

Having struggled for the first half-hour, it was Bruno who brought hope to those in green.

A brutally accurate header from a corner turned the match on its head, although few fans inside the stadium could have imagined what was to come.

For the next 15 minutes, Al Shabab's game plan, led by the brilliant Ciel, was to get the ball to Bruno. Or more accurately, to Bruno's head.

There were no shortage of chances, all squandered. On 40 minutes, an Bruno volley cleared the bar. On the stroke of half time, a header was deflected by a defender for a corner.

In injury time, Bruno, seemingly capable of floating in the air by now, headed yet another chance wide. But he was getting closer and closer.

In the second half, Al Shabab's Brazilian trio of Bruno, Ciel and Luiz Henrique, continued to soar. It was no surprise when Bruno got his second goal of the match, and the equaliser, within 10 minutes of the restart.

Suddenly, it seemed like, in true cup final mythology, Al Shabab's name was on the cup.

But destiny was far from finished with this match. Not even close.

Back came Al Ahli, Grafite missing a penalty before their brilliant Chilean playmaker Luis Jimenez gave them the lead again. We had not reached the hour mark yet.

Far from being downhearted at going behind so soon after the equaliser, Al Shabab launched yet another assault.

An instinctive first-time, sidefooted effort by Bruno, who else, just missed Majed Naser's bar on 76 minutes; a minute later yet another header from the hovering Bruno went begging.

It was only a matter of time before Al Ahli's overworked defender would buckle.

Buckle they did, giving away an 80th-minute penalty. For perhaps the only time in the match, Bruno was uninvolved.

Ciel stepped up to place the spot kick past Naser; 3-3 with extra time looking a distinct probability.

The match had long deteriorated into a series of arguments, niggling fouls and play-acting, but there was still one more heartbreaking twist to it.

With five minutes of regulation time left, Al Ahli's Ismail Al Hamadi, twisting and turning, managed to squeeze a low cross into Al Shabab's six-yard box. The ball took a cruel deflection off an Al Shabab foot and agonisingly crossed the line.

Astonishingly, it was the foot of the man who had cast the biggest shadow on the final.

Bruno.

Grafite managed to get sent off with two minutes to go, and the six minutes of injury time, despite inevitably bringing a couple of Bruno headers, saw no change in the score line; 4-3, and the President's Cup to Al Ahli.

At the end, Bruno, like his teammates, looked distraught. It is not often you score three goals in a cup final and end up on the losing side, a tragic hero.

But having given a performance for the ages, he, perhaps for the last time on the night, could still hold his head higher than anyone else.

akhaled@thenational.ae

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