x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 24 January 2018

Ahli coach hopes Majed Naser reneges on retirement

Quique Sanchez Flores says Al Wasl goalkeeper still has plenty to offer after seeing his side play out a thrilling 3-3 draw against Al Nasr.

Al Ahli keeper Yousif Abdulla, on the ground at right, stops a shot on goal by Al Nasr's Luca Toni.
Al Ahli keeper Yousif Abdulla, on the ground at right, stops a shot on goal by Al Nasr's Luca Toni.

DUBAI // Majed Naser's decision to retire from football continues to surprise people and the latest to join that list is the man who suffered that jarring slap on the back of his head.

That was after the last match at the Rashid Stadium before Sunday night's Pro League game: the Etisalat Cup semi-final on March 11 between Al Ahli and Wasl.

After a nondescript 90 minutes, the match had ended 1-0 in favour of the hosts. While the match itself had few moments of note, what happened after the final whistle made headlines around the globe.

Naser, incensed about some gestures that Quique Sanchez Flores made during the game, slapped the Ahli coach as he was celebrating with his players.

A scuffle followed and the Wasl goalkeeper was slapped with a 17-match ban by the UAE Football Association's Disciplinary Committee on the following day.

A few days after his sentencing, Naser announced his retirement from the game on a television show, shocking the football fraternity. His club and his fans have urged the goalkeeper to reconsider his decision and Sanchez Flores added his voice to those calls Sunday night.

"I hope he will take back his decision to retire," Sanchez Flores said. "He is an important player for the league and UAE football, and he still has a lot to offer. I would be happy to see him return. For me, I forgot about that incident on the same day and it is not a problem for me."

Both Naser and his coach Diego Maradona believe the punishment is excessive and Al Wasl have lodged an appeal, which will be heard on April 8.

Sanchez Flores agrees he did not deserve such a lengthy sentence.

"From my perspective, I think the punishment is a bit harsh," the Ahli coach said. "I thought the matter was over; he apologised to me [on the same night, going to the home of Sanchez Flores personally] and I accepted his apology."

There were no such post-match fireworks Sunday night in Ahli's game against Al Nasr at the Rashid Stadium.

The players shook hands warmly after the entertaining 3-3 draw and left for their dressing rooms in peace.

Unlike their rusty win over Wasl and the 1-0 defeat in their following game at Al Ain, Ahli had looked fluent from the start last night and took the lead after 25 minutes.

Luis Jimenez, returning to the Pro League after serving his three-match suspension for butting a referee, came sliding into the box to convert an Ismail Al Hammadi cross for Ahli's opener.

The Chilean played provider for the second goal in the 39th minute with a deft back-heel inside the box for Achille Emana, who failed to control it. Grafite, however, pounced on the ball and blasted it home, getting a healthy deflection off Helal Saeed.

Luca Toni pulled one back for the visitors in the 53rd minute with a header and Ali Salem levelled the scores with another header in the 75th minute.

With only five minutes remaining on the clock, the combination of Jimenez and Grafite gave Ahli the lead once again, with the Brazilian striker volleying home a cross from the Chilean.

However, a third header for Nasr on the night, this time by Helal Saeed in the fifth minute of injury time, made sure they left with a point.

The draw takes Ahli's tally to 18 points, while Nasr keep their hopes of challenging for the title alive. They are fourth in the points table with 29, 10 behind the leaders Al Ain. Al Jazira (32) and Al Shabab (30) are second and third, respectively.

"We will play every game to win," said Salem Rabea, Walter Zenga's assistant. "We still have six games and we will work hard for these 18 points. We will keep challenging ourselves.

"Al Ain have a comfortable lead, but we know anything can happen in this league. It is a very tight competition and any team can win at any time."