x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Al Nasr 2 Al Shabab 3

Al Shabab stage an unlikely comeback against Al Nasr at Al Maktoum Stadium as the victory moves the visitors above their Dubai rivals into fifth in the table

Players from Al Nasr and Al Shabab battle for possession on Friday night. Afsal Sham / Al Ittihad
Players from Al Nasr and Al Shabab battle for possession on Friday night. Afsal Sham / Al Ittihad

DUBAI // As Marcos Paqueta, the Al Shabab coach, deemed this fraught encounter with Al Nasr as more akin to a chess match, perhaps the only way to describe his side's implausible 3-2 victory is a textbook swindle.

For as the derby at Al Maktoum Stadium faded into the Dubai night, it appeared the visitors' good fortune had finally deserted them.

Unbeaten in 11 games, Nasr seemed set to call time on that remarkable run following two flicks of Leonardo Lima's right boot.

Shabab found themselves 2-1 down – Edgar Bruno had given them an early lead – and running out of time, lurching and labouring before substitute Abdulla Hassan sparked the most unlikely of turnarounds.

Bruno then notched his second with only four minutes to go: checkmate.

"I treated the match more like a chess game where I moved the players around like chess pieces," said Paqueta, proving Shabab's very own Garry Kasparov. "We were successful in what we wanted to achieve with that.

"All in all, I'm very happy with the team and with their determination. In the end we deserved this victory because my players fought to the end and fought throughout the 90 minutes to win this match."

In truth, the fight looked to have long abandoned them.

Having restored parity for Nasr from the penalty spot on 27 minutes, Lima then curled a free kick early in the second half high above the Shabab wall and past the despairing Salem Abdulla in the opposition goal.

Three points in this season's tautly wrung Pro League would have been warmly embraced, yet Hassan latched on to an Azizbek Haydarov shot that shook the Nasr crossbar to level it at 2-2.

There was to be another sting in the tail, though, with Bruno capitalising on Ahmed Shambieh's parry of a breakaway strike from Ciel to snatch the win.

"Smash and grab", that well-worn football maxim, presumably does not directly translate in these parts, however Shabab had performed it with aplomb.

With the win, they leapfrog Nasr into fifth and remain in the slipstream of Al Jazira, the second-placed Abu Dhabi club who boast only five extra points.

"It is definitely a vital victory," said Paqueta.

"Coming into this match, we viewed Al Nasr as a direct competitor, so getting the three points is very important to skip over them and help us achieve our overall aim, which is getting into the top four."

After seeing his own side's top-four aspirations suffer a heavy blow, Walter Zenga, the Nasr coach, was refreshingly candid in his post-match comments.

"Of course, I'm very disappointed in the loss, as we came to win, played to win and had the game in our hands and under our control," said the Italian.

"And then we committed three mistakes and conceded three goals.

"But the responsibility is not on the players and their mistakes, but on myself. I hold myself responsible for the loss.

"I am not the sort of coach to blame the players or the referee – my job is to take responsibility for everyone. That's not a problem for me."

Zenga's regret lay in his side's vulnerability to the counter-attack, when Nasr surged forward for the winner only to be outdone by a long ball over their advanced backline. In the pre-match build-up Zenga had implored his players to display more cunning in the final stages of matches, warning any negligence could cost them dear.

Here was a crushing case in point.

"It is my fault for not teaching them correctly," he said. "It was me who made the mistake, easy. We need to keep working."


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