A hat trick from compatriot Edgar Bruno is making it Al Shabab's coach, the Brazilian Marcos Paqueta, breath a little easier after their 3-2 Etisalat Cup win over Ajman, writes John McAuley.
Etisalat Cup: Al Shabab 3 Ajman 2
Al Shabab Bruno 67’, 79’, 80’
Ajman Shehab 6’, Sy 47’
Man of the match
Edgar Bruno (Al Shabab)
DUBAI // Having recently contracted the dreaded vote of confidence from his superiors, Marcos Paqueta would have presumably been thinking about clearing his desk midway through Monday night's encounter with Ajman.
The Al Shabab coach watched as his struggling side appeared alarmingly insipid for much of the clash at the Maktoum bin Rashid Stadium, trailing 2-0 shortly after the interval to goals from Shehab Ahmed and Founeke Sy.
Paqueta, a Brazilian of decent managerial pedigree, needed inspiration and sought to release Edgar Bruno, the powerful striker, from the bench. Bruno duly obliged the request to play the super sub, notching a hat-trick that not only provided Shabab with a second victory in eight games, but offered a lifeline to his compatriot in crisis.
"We needed the win badly," said a relieved Paqueta. "To raise the spirits of the players and the team as a whole so we can achieve good results in the future.
"Thankfully we woke up to score three goals and undoubtedly we're happy with the result. But it does not cover the faults in our team. There were too many mistakes, again, in our defending."
It remains to be seen whether a scrappy triumph in UAE football's least distinguished competition is enough to convince the Shabab board that Paqueta deserves a little patience.
It was Ajman who drew first blood in a match between Group C's top two teams: Ahmed expertly curling an early free kick past Salem Abdulla, the Shabab goalkeeper, after Sy have been felled just outside the penalty area.
The setback should have coaxed the hosts out of their shell, but given recent results, Shabab toiled in front of 230 committed spectators. They did strike the post as half time approached, Essa Obaid connecting with a cross only to see his header rebound out.
Two minutes into the second half, and Paqueta would have been forgiven for believing his short time at Shabab - he replaced the successful Paulo Bonamigo this summer - was nearing its conclusion.
Sy, having broken free of the Shabab defence, needed two attempts to double Ajman's advantage, the Mali frontman reacting quickest to an Esam Dhahi block.
Paqueta's response was to throw on Bruno, who soon halved the deficit, meeting Ciel's fine cross just after the hour and nodding past Abdulla. The goal stirred Shabab from their slumber, with Bruno capitalising on increased pressure from the home side when he beat the offside trap on 79 minutes to bring the ball around Abdulla and restore parity.
There would be an immediate, and final, sting in the tail for Ajman, as 60 seconds later Bruno again connected with a Ciel cross to seal three of the most valuable points for Shabab and, perhaps more tellingly, Paqueta. The man in question tried to cut a peaceful figure post-match, yet only the most foolhardy would have been convinced.
"Maybe it is just the media talking about this on a daily basis," he said. "This is part of my job - I'm not feeling any pressure."
Abdul Wahab Abdul Qadir, the Ajman coach, conceded his side had been outdone by his opposite number's tactical nous.
"We should congratulate Shabab, and especially the coach Paqueta," he said. "Bruno was introduced to try and change the game and he succeeded."
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