x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Al Shabab 2 Al Nasr 4

Italian coach Walter Zenga says the real work starts now for his Al Nasr side as they sit top of the Pro League table.

Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach.
Walter Zenga, the Al Nasr coach.

DUBAI // When Walter Zenga arrived at Al Nasr in January last year, his team were languishing in the lower half of the table, struggling to live with the other top Pro League sides.

Nasr had appointed and dismissed two coaches in the first three months of that season when they handed the Italian goalkeeping legend a five-month deal. Zenga turned the club's fortunes and results around as they went on to finish third.

That earned Zenga a one-year extension and in his second season, he managed to guide his team to second - their best finish since their third league title in 1986. Expectations, though not stated, are a bit higher for this season and Zenga and his men seem to be on track for their first championship in 22 years.

It is still early days, and there are still 23 rounds to play, but Nasr are top of the table, for now, after a 4-2 win at Dubai rivals Al Shabab last night. They are undefeated in three games, starting their campaign with a 2-1 win at Al Jazira before sharing points with Al Wasl, the league's only other undefeated team so far.

Before the game, Zenga had made it clear his goal was to fight for three points and take top position. Last night, he was pleased his team could manage that.

"At the end of the game, I told the boys that our job begins now," he said. "Last season, we were last after three games and then we started to play. This season, we are first after three games and now the challenge for us is to build keep going from here."

Things did not go to plan for the hosts. Missing Azizbek Haydarov through suspension, they were forced to replace defender Mahmoud Qassim in the 14th minute after a tangle with Bruno Correa left him with an injured ankle.

And in the 56th minute, they were reduced to 10 men after Essa Mohammed received a straight red for a tackle on Correa. Nasr had already scored three by then.

Giussepe Mascara opened the scores for the visitors in the 25th minute, slotting home Correa's back-heel.

Five minutes later, Nashat Akram got on the score sheet, blasting home after Leonardo Lima had carved the defence apart with a precise through ball.

Ciel pulled one back for the hosts in the 32nd minute with a blistering long-range effort that deflected off Mahmoud Hassan.

Two minutes later, he tried to earn a free kick for Shabab, falling over without any visible contact.

Mascara, however, did not appreciate Ciel's play-acting and pushed him as he lay on the ground. That allowed the Brazilian to put his acting skills into practice again as he theatrically went to ground.

Seeing his teammate on the ground, Luiz Henrique rushed at the Italian Mascara and soon all the players had got involved, pushing each other around.

Play was held up as the match officials discussed what had transpired and Henrique earned a booking for his actions.

Surprisingly, Correa, who had little to do in the episode, if anything, was booked as well and Zenga could not help but laugh at the decision.

Correa, however, failed to see the funny side and seemed upset until he got his name among the scorers in the 54th minute with a crisp finish from the edge of the box.

A man down, the hosts kept fighting and Edgar Bruno's header in the 69th minute reduced the deficit. Shabab's joy, however, was short-lived as Mascara scored Nasr's fourth following a neat one-two with Correa.