x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Al Ain climb up to second as Maradona fumes

Compatriot Ignacio Scocco is certainly not as popular as the Argentine footballer but he will do for the passionate supporters.

Asamoha Gyan celebrates with his Al Ain teammates.
Asamoha Gyan celebrates with his Al Ain teammates.

AL AIN // There are few places where Ignacio Scocco would rank higher than Diego Maradona in a popularity contest for Argentine footballers.

His house, maybe - but not definitely - might be one. The Tahnoun Bin Mohammed Stadium in Al Ain would be another.

And on last night's evidence, the little heralded winger from Santa Fe would win by a landslide.

Other than their nationality, the fact they once played for Newell's Old Boys, and that each currently earns his money in the UAE, there are not many similarities between Scocco and Maradona.

Maradona is so loved in his homeland that all Argentine league matches were preceded by a minute's silence as a mark of respect after his mother passed away last month.

By contrast, Scocco is almost entirely anonymous.

He will do for Al Ain's passionate supporters, however, after playing a fine hand in defeating the Al Wasl side managed by his illustrious compatriot.

Scocco, a summer import from Greece, earned the penalty from which Asamoah Gyan, with whom he dovetailed adroitly all match, opened the scoring for the home side.

He then added one of his own with a smart snap volley, as Al Ain all but wrapped up this Pro League fixture within the first 32 minutes.

Strangely, given the fact the whole of UAE football is currently swathed in the reflected glow of his celebrity, Maradona remains entirely out of favour in the garden city. His spat with Cosmin Olaroiu, Al Ain's Romanian manager, in a recent Etisalat Cup match, has been the catalyst for much of the bad blood.

The duo apparently agree on little, including such trivialities as what represents appropriate match day attire.

Even though it was the coolest evening of the season so far, leading him to wear a lightweight jacket on his top half, Maradona stuck to the short pants that had previously irked his opposite number.

They are clearly not lucky shorts, judging by the fact nothing went right for his side.

These two clubs rank among the most successful in the history of UAE football, which might go some way to explaining a bitter rivalry that could hardly be founded on geography.

It does not need a pair of warring managers to fire this particular fixture, and the atmosphere in the stands was on the tense side of electric again. Maradona, who was roundly booed whenever he was in full view, was happy to play up to his role of villain, notably when he angrily chaperoned Hamad Al Shaikh Hashmi, the referee, off at half time.

The restart was delayed while he continued his conversation with the match official.

"When I went to the referee at the end of the first half, I wanted to give my opinion about a certain incident that had happened," Maradona said.

"I was stopped from doing that, and was shoved to the side by the police and treated like I was an outsider. It was not right.

"Al Ain deserved to win. They were the better team, and that doesn't bother me.

"What bothered me is the fact the officials want the limelight, as I have said before."

Meanwhile, beyond the touchline, the police had to interject to quell some unruliness among the Al Wasl fans who were positioned closest to the main stand.

The embers are likely to flicker on this one for some while yet. When the final whistle blew, Maradona waved away an approach from his counterpart to shake his hand.

The glory, meanwhile, was left for Scocco.



Baiano makes winning return

Fernando Baiano marked his first start for Al Wahda since being punished by the police for his involvement in a car accident with the winning goal against Sharjah last night.

The Brazilian spent a week in police custody, had his driving licence suspended and was find Dh27,000 for his role in an accident in Abu Dhabi. He played the full 90 minutes last night, scoring after 42 minutes.