x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Asian Champions League: Al Nasr fightback against Al Gharafa too little too late for Zenga

Two goals in two minutes by Habib Fardan and Bruno Correa had raised hopes of a dramatic turnaround after the Dubai side went 3-0 down at half time, only to suffer more heartbreak.

The inexperience of Al Nasr's defenders against a veteran operator such as Djibril Cisse, in yellow, showed as Qatar's Al Gharafa defeated the hosts 4-2 in Dubai last night. Marwan Naamani / AFP
The inexperience of Al Nasr's defenders against a veteran operator such as Djibril Cisse, in yellow, showed as Qatar's Al Gharafa defeated the hosts 4-2 in Dubai last night. Marwan Naamani / AFP

Al Nasr 2 Al Gharafa 4
Al Nasr: Fardan 56', Correa 58'
Al Gharafa: Cisse 24', Shami 31', Nene 45' (p), Quaye 84

 

DUBAI // It was, as we so often hear from the Pro League coaches, a tale of two halves.

In the first, Al Nasr were desperately disappointing and Al Gharafa scored three times - through Djibril Cisse, Hamed Shami and Nene.

After the break, the hosts looked a side transformed and two goals in two minutes by Habib Fardan and Bruno Correa had raised hopes of a dramatic turnaround and the possibility of Nasr winning their first point, if not points, of this year's Asian Champions League campaign.

But it was not to be. Six minutes from time, Lawrence Quaye slotted home Gharafa's fourth goal of the night to take the Qatar club's tally to six points from three matches, while Nasr have none from as many games and prop up the rest of Group C.

The defeat is bound to add to the pressure already on the Nasr coach, Walter Zenga. The Italian's team selection before the match certainly had some sceptics scratching their heads.

Nasr, deprived of Leonardo Lima's services through suspension, set up with an extra body in midfield and kept Japanese striker Takayuki Morimoto on the bench. There were five changes made to the starting XI from Nasr's 2-1 win over Baniyas in the Pro League on Friday.

The Nasr focus, it would appear, was on containment and stifling the supply line to Cisse, Alex and Nene. The strategy seemed to be working in the opening exchanges, but it soon unravelled.

It is hard to keep a man like Cisse, the former Liverpool and Lazio striker, out of the game for long. And in the 24th minute, he left the Nasr goalkeeper Ahmed Shambih stranded, rising over Helal Saeed to head home Nene's delivery.

The goal forced Nasr to come out and attack and Shami found acres of space when he raced into the box in the 31st minute to chase down Alex's pass. Ahmed Moadhed, the Nasr defender, was caught napping and Shami angled the ball past Shambih for the visitors' second.

Moadhed's lapse brought immediate retribution from the Nasr coach. He was replaced by the more experienced Mahmoud Darwish, but the inexperience in defence was to cost Nasr further before the break.

Nene, who spent two-and-a-half seasons at French giants Paris St Germain before moving to Qatar in January, was brought down by Khalifa Mubarak on the stroke of half time. The referee, Benjamin Williams, immediately pointed to the spot and the Brazilian made no mistake in making it 3-0.

Zenga replaced Essa Ali with Morimoto for the second half and the Dubai club had much more of an attacking threat about them.

Their attacking efforts were eventually rewarded when Habib Fardan headed home their first of the evening in the 56th minute.

Two minutes later, a thrilled Zenga was leaping and punching the air as Bruno Correa made it 3-2 with a deft side-heel finish inside a crowded penalty area.

Gharafa looked to be wilting under Nasr's sustained pressure, but Quaye silenced the home fans with a stunning finish from the top of the box in the 84th minute to extinguish the Nasr flame.

Man of the match: Nene (Al Gharafa)

 

arizvi@thenational.ae

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