Waheed Ismail scores for Al Wasl in an entertaining Pro League match between two Serie A greats in Dubai.
Leonardo Lima ensures spoils are shared at Al Nasr
DUBAI // On the pitch, two of the oldest rivals in UAE football were battling for bragging rights in the Bur Dubai derby.
Inspiring and instructing them from the dugout were two of the game's greatest, the irrepressible Diego Maradona and the indefatigable Walter Zenga. In the stands, the 6,800-plus fans created an atmosphere that matched the occasion.
Upset at the loss of another two home matches, the third such sentence served on their team this season for misbehaviour in the stands, the Wasl fans had been discussing a boycott of the remaining four Pro League matches. They chose to voice their protest in a different manner though.
Filling virtually every seat offered to the visiting fans last night, and outnumbering the hosts, the Wasl "Ultras" suddenly left their seats in the early part of the first half, leaving only a few to unfurl a banner that asked: "Is this how you want the stadiums to look?" They stayed outside the stadium for around seven minutes before returning to their seats.
Fortunately, the Wasl fans had not timed their protest around the seventh minute of the game, when Waheed Ismail's header put the visitors ahead. They celebrated that goal wildly.
The home fans got their chance when Leonardo Lima levelled the scores in the 33rd minute. Both the teams entertained through the remaining minutes, but were unable to score.
On the eve of the derby, Zenga had claimed he would play a derby game of this sort even on one leg, and Luca Toni reflected that bravado on the pitch. Returning to the Nasr team for the first time since picking up an elbow injury in the match against Sharjah on March 29, the Italian marksman took the pitch with his left hand heavily bandaged.
That, however, did not prevent Toni from diving, on his left side, to blast in a header in the 31st minute. Ahmed Mahmoud, the Wasl keeper, did well to keep it out, but two minutes later he could do little as Lima passed him with a blazing shot from almost 30 yards out. Mahmoud, however, did a brilliant job to deny Habib Fardan in the 54th minute, sliding in to tip over his attempted chip.
Ten minutes later, Abdulla Mousa, the Nasr keeper, made a similarly acrobatic save to keep out Yasser Salem's volley.
After the game, Maradona and Zenga were locked in a long embrace, giving evidence of the respect they have for each other. That was obvious on the eve of the match itself when Maradona saluted the Italian's "exceptional" work at Nasr.
Since arriving in Dubai in the middle of last season, Zenga has been able to forge a highly competitive team, something that Maradona himself wanted to achieve at Wasl. Dejected about the lack of support from his employers, the Argentine legend has hinted he might not be there to serve the second year of his contract.
Zenga, however, is likely to continue. "There is no problem in the renewal of my contract because we agree on everything," the Italian said. "I am happy to be at Al Nasr and as long as I am happy here, why should I leave?"
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