Grafite's extra-time goal lifted Al Ahli into a draw and left Bruno Metsu and Al Wasl frustrated in the end.
Al Wasl 2 Al Ahli 2
DUBAI // The second Dubai derby of Al Wasl's infant season may have produced the same scoreline as the first, yet few connected with the club would have been content with sharing the spoils Thursday night.
"Smash and grab" presumably does not easily translate into Spanish, the native tongue of a grateful Quique Sanchez Flores, the visiting manager, so perhaps it was not wholly unpredictable that he saw the match differently. "For me, it was a fair result because in the first half Al Wasl were better and in the second we were better," he said. "It was balanced between the two sides.
"In the first half we had problems with keeping the ball, where our defence was not strong enough to deal with Wasl's attack. We could not stop them.
"However, the second period was much improved, as we opened the pitch and controlled midfield. That was the most important thing in our performance.
"We fought more and then got the final goal. It was a good result for us and I am very happy because Al Wasl are one of the strongest teams in the league."
The result owed much to the goalscoring instinct of Grafite, the Ahli striker.
Having spent a torrid first half chasing lost causes as a lone frontman, the Brazilian sparked into life after the break.
First, he pounced on an amateur fumble from Ahmed Mahmoud, the Wasl goalkeeper, to stab home from two yards and cancel out Mariano Donda's fine first-half strike.
Then, following Emiliano Alfaro's dubiously awarded penalty and as the match ticked towards its conclusion, Grafite reacted quickest to the substitute Ahmed Khalil's persistent wing play and prodded a cross into the empty net.
Ahli rejoiced in an improbable draw, while Wasl's players across the pitch sunk to their knees.
For Metsu, the frustrated Wasl manager, the second-half introduction from the visitors' bench of Khalil and Ismail Al Hammadi transformed the game.
"I'm quite disappointed and upset about the second goal we conceded," he said.
"It's no doubt the substitutes Ahli made were very effective and changed the result.
"Ahli are very lucky to have two starters for the UAE national team on the bench and they made the difference. But it was an excellent match between two great teams, both highly technical with strong attacking talent." Metsu disagreed with suggestions his side lacked the mental fortitude to continue their impressive first half, saying: "Any team which is losing try their best to score. This happens a lot in football.
"We were fully concentrated throughout. Let's not forget Ahli are one of the best teams in the UAE and scored six goals against Al Ain, the champions [in their opening Pro League match]. They are probably the best away side in the league."
His opposite number, though, felt the home side prospered from some poor officiating, especially the award of the penalty to Alfaro.
As the match crept past the hour, the 24 year old forced the ponderous Basheer Saeed to make a mistake before falling under what appeared to be a fine tackle from Yousef Mohammed, the Ahli centre-back.
However, Amar Al Junaibi did not view it as such, the referee pointing to the spot, much to the irritation of the visitors' bench.
Alfaro coolly dispatched the resultant spot-kick to take his tally to a remarkable eight goals in four games. "At this moment we have played four competitive games and there have been four easy penalties," Sanchez Flores said.
"The referees' work is not easy, but we must look at these mistakes.
"It is difficult to fight for the league if there are always these problems - I really hope this changes. However, I am very pleased with my side's start to the season and we need to correct only the little details to enjoy success."
Mariano Donda 38
Emiliano Alfaro (pen) 62
Grafite 51, 90
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