x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Luca Toni launches his Nasr career

The Italian had a dream debut scoring the winner for his new side in the 2-1 win over Ajman.

Luca Toni, right, played the full 90 minutes in the game with Ajman, scoring the winner in the 80th minute.
Luca Toni, right, played the full 90 minutes in the game with Ajman, scoring the winner in the 80th minute.

When Luca Toni first arrived in Munich, on a four-year deal from Fiorentina in 2007, club officials at Bayern offered him a €10,000-a-month penthouse.

"Well, I understand, I'm Toni, but €10,000 is a bit much," he told them and went house-hunting with his fiancee for a less affluent dwelling.

That episode perhaps best describes Toni the person.

He is one of the superstars of the game, but shuns the bling, avoids interviews and prefers being one of the team.

He is clearly not comfortable with the spotlight, but circumstances have forced him into that situation often, in Italy, Germany and now in the UAE.

Making his debut for Al Nasr in Ajman last night, Toni would have preferred a bit less of the glare, especially since he was playing his first official game since May 22, 2011.

He was substituted back then after 71 minutes of the 2-2 Serie A draw between Juventus and Napoli, but played the full 90 minutes last night and scored the goal that made the difference in Nasr's 2-1 win.

The rust was evident at the start, but there was no lack of effort, enthusiasm or passion as the 34 year old began a new chapter in a career that has already seen him win a World Cup and Europe's Golden Shoe, an award presented each season to the continent's leading goalscorer.

But given his keenness, a goal was around the corner and it came in the 80th minute, with the game locked 1-1.

Toni stretched out a long leg to try to flick home Talal Hamad's free kick.

That attempt went amiss, but the Italian recovered to put the ball into the back of the net. He was limping for a few moments after that, but there was no stopping his "crazy" celebration.

Toni celebrated even more after the game and was given a standing ovation by the travelling supporters, just like the one he received before the start of the match, although from a lot fewer fans.

Few of the Nasr faithful were at the ground when Toni walked out to the pitch for the warm-up.

Those disappointing numbers grew gradually over the next 50 minutes to kick-off and some 3,200 spectators were in their seats, most dressed in the blue of Nasr, when the Pro League music announced the arrival of the teams.

As they walked out, it would have been difficult to miss the Italian.

He was clearly the tallest man on the pitch, but humbly bent down to kiss the grass as he walked over the line.

After the pre-match formalities, he ran towards the stands occupied by the Nasr fans and waved out to them. Breathless, they were still chanting his name.

Seconds into the game, the darling of the visiting fans was irreverently brought down by Jassem Ali of Ajman.

An angry roar went up from the stands.

Two minutes later, Toni himself was expressing his anguish as Amara Diane's trickle past the Ajman keeper hit the post.

Before the start of the game, Toni and Diane, his partner in attack, were animatedly discussing their strategy.

But before they could their plans into practice, Boris Kaabi silenced the travelling fans with a blistering goal on the counterattack in the 12th minute.

Another Serie A veteran, however, brought the Nasr supporters back to their roaring best 11 minutes later.

Mark Bresciano, Nasr's leading scorer of the season, blasted the ball home from the top of the box to level the scores and reinvigorate the visiting fans.

The supporters' high spirits helped Toni to keep going despite his apparent discomfort and, after a few misses, he scored the goal that won the match and kept Nasr second in the Pro League behind Al Ain.

He could have had another in injury time, but a post denied him.