x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Ahli secure passage to Etisalat Cup final as Wasl keeper is suspended

Majid Nasser's slap on the head of Al Ahli coach Quique Sanchez Flores, which provoked an angry melee after the final whistle, earns him an immediate suspension from Wasl officials.

Al Wasl, in yellow, struggled to impose themselves against Al Ahli, and were undone by a goal from Faisal Khalil in the 61st minute that lifts Ahli into the Etisalat Cup final.
Al Wasl, in yellow, struggled to impose themselves against Al Ahli, and were undone by a goal from Faisal Khalil in the 61st minute that lifts Ahli into the Etisalat Cup final.

DUBAI // Diego Maradona saw his last realistic chance of securing a trophy in his maiden season in Dubai evaporate Sunday night when a goal from Faisal Khalil sent Al Ahli through to the Etisalat Cup final.

The night got worse for the Argentine when Wasl officials announced after the match they had suspended goalkeeper Majid Nasser for his slap on the head of Ahli coach Quique Sanchez Flores, which provoked an angry melee after the final whistle.

This may be regarded the lesser cup competition in this country in terms of prestige, but it would have provided some consolation for Maradona after a bland first term with Al Wasl.

Wasl are already out of the President's Cup and are meandering in fifth place in the Pro League, where they are albeit three places better off than their visitors Sunday night.

In truth they did not deserve to go through to face Al Shabab in the May 26 final.

Ahli advanced, but only because they were not quite as bad as their visitors.

The poor fare on the field was even more frustrating given the pedigree of the glitterati beyond the sidelines at this match. Maradona, Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli manager, and Fabio Cannavaro, who has an ambassadorial-come-consultant role at the club, would have hoped to muster a little more quality than this, but no joy.

The frustration manifested itself most obviously in Maradona's histrionics on the sidelines.

He was typically apoplectic with the officials.

He did not like his players being fouled. And he even indulged in a forward-roll when Juan Olivera missed a glaring chance to equalise late in the game.

His goalkeeper, Nasser, was expressing the same sort of frustration on the field.

Like his celebrated manager, he seemed as though he wanted to get out up field and show his teammates how it should be done.

In the 36th minute, he was booked for, it seemed, being persistently annoying. It was a string of petty things which added up to his yellow card.

Three times he refused to take free kicks from the right spot.

He goaded Sanchez Flores.

He riled Grafite, the Ahli forward.

When he later mock applauded the referee for making him take a free kick from the correct place it was the final straw.

Then came the slap on the head of Sanchez Flores, which is likely to see him in hot water with the Football Association.

Ahli were not much better than their guests, but they muddled through.

When the goal eventually did arrive, it was expertly crafted, and thus totally out of keeping with everything that had gone before in the match.

Ismaeel Al Hammadi, the Ahli midfielder, chipped a canny pass over the Wasl defence and straight into Khalil's stride.

The UAE forward, who had entered the fray as a first-half substitute when Luis Jimenez limped off with a strained hamstring, then applied a fine left-footed finish.

pradley@thenational.ae

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