x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

At last, Al Jazira have a memory to savour

Fans of the 'Pride of Abu Dhabi' finally have reason to celebrate after decades of waiting for a trophy,

Al Jazira players crowd around to touch the President's Cup in a moment that will go down in the club's history.
Al Jazira players crowd around to touch the President's Cup in a moment that will go down in the club's history.

For 37 years, what is now the self-styled Pride of Abu Dhabi had nothing to shout about. No league titles. No President's Cups. And those are the only trophies that really matter in this country.

Al Jazira were an also-ran for a decade or three, muddling around the bottom half of the domestic league, irrelevant at a time when Sharjah, Al Ain and the Dubai sides won titles and cups. In the capital, the one side that mattered were not Jazira but their rivals, Al Wahda.

Things changed around the turn of the century, when Jazira's enormous Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium went up, to be shortly followed by huge outlays for elite foreign players, Dh65 million for Rafael Sobis in 2008, Dh72m for Ricardo Oliveira in 2009.

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But while those massive investments made Jazira a side to reckon with, from week to week, they did not yield significant silverware. As they fell just short in league races, their long-suffering fans surely must have debated: was it worse to be bad, in the early days, or unlucky in the latter? Which was harder: sheer incompetence or a maddening inability to seal the deal?

Last night, at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Jazira fans finally had a wait they could savour. One they may never forget: the final 20 minutes of the 2011 President's Cup final.

That was after Bare, best known for brutish displays of strength, channelled his inner-samba and wove his way through three Wahda defenders to deliver an exquisite chip to the head of Brazilian countryman Oliveiro for a 2-0 lead.

Jazira fans exploded in joy when that shot went in. They led by two goals. Wahda clearly were exhausted after chasing the game, and Jazira supporters could sing and dance and chant away those final 20 minutes, and then the rest of the night, and week and all of 2012.

As the clock ticked down, fans in red and white, who packed half the stadium, must have felt they could reach out and touch that trophy on a pedestal between the two sides and rub away 37 years of futility.

Two more eruptions awaited, while the game was still on the pitch. The first in the 80th minute, when Bare stroked home Jazira's third goal, and his second, and supporters chanted "Bare! Bare! Bare!" as the big man sucked his thumb in honour of the daughter his wife will soon give him, and his manager, the perpetually fretful Abel Braga, shook his fists at the sky, perhaps in defiance of the fates that so often had deserted his side.

The second, and last, explosion, when the substitute Ahmed Jumaa headed home the final goal of a 4-0 victory, the exclamation point on a night of dominance, once and for all.

Finally, it was Jazira's men whose faces looked as if they might split from the enormous grins they wore as Wahda's players wept openly in the dugout. Jazira's fans who pounded drums let out a mighty shout when the final whistle blew.

At 7.56pm, it was over, and the whole Jazira club and perhaps some office workers charged on to the pitch. Ali Kashief, the goalkeeper, climbed up on the crossbar and got entangled in the net he was trying to dismantle, and all he could do was smile sheepishly as the party started while the groundskeepers helped him down.

Minutes later, Kashief was so bold as to ask Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, to sign his jersey after Sheikh Mohammed hung a medal around his neck, and fans sang:"Ole, Ole."

And can we have a cheer, please, for Al Jazira management? This is the club who take seriously the idea of getting fans into the stadium in an era of "I'll catch it on television."

An hour before kick off fans in Jazira red "Pride of Abu Dhabi" caps and T-shirts were streaming out of buses and into the stadium. The club made that happen. Wahda attracted fans; Jazira literally brought them, by the thousands.

Jazira were a club worthy of victory. Wahda fans may broach the two first-half decisions by the men in black that went against them, a penalty kick not awarded when Yaser Matar bundled over Eisa Ahmed in the box, and the goal by Basheer Saeed in the 25th minute that should have tied the game but was waved off, incorrectly, by the linesman as an offside violation.

Those moments will not be recalled, of course, by Jazira or their fans. For the first time in the club's history, they have won a trophy to treasure and a memory to hold dear.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae