x Abu Dhabi, UAE Friday 21 July 2017

Maradona keeps his cool

Bloggers who monitor every detail of Diego Maradona's existence at Al Wasl must have been a disappointed lot Friday night.

Maradona was more subdued than normal against Al Wahda last night.
Maradona was more subdued than normal against Al Wahda last night.

DUBAI // Bloggers who monitor every detail of Diego Maradona's existence at Al Wasl must have been a disappointed lot last night.

The Argentine legend did not put his revered left foot to use as he did the week before, when he kicked the hand of a supporter. He did not even indulge in a rant at match officials.

Maradona was as calm as he can be. Perhaps, the giant posters of Theyab Awana in the stands had put him in a reflective mode. He had visited Awana's parents to offer his condolences on the young Baniyas midfielder's death in a car crash this week.

Or, rather, he had no reason to be agitated as his team took early charge of their Etisalat Cup match against Al Wahda.

Playing at their home ground for the first time this season, Juan Manuel Olivera had put his coach at ease with the opener just four minutes into the game.

Rashed Issa, joining the squad after his Olympic team duty, doubled the tally 10 minutes later.

Salem Saleh got a red card with just a minute to go before the break and the visitors were left with 10 men against Maradona's rampaging team.

Josef Hickersberger decided to put all his men in defence on resumption, but the Wasl captain Essa Ali managed to find an opening in added time.

The result, however, still affords a bit more respectability to Wahda than the actual play. They were overwhelmed and Hickersberger, perhaps, might not have imagined such a fate, even with eight of his players on national duty. But the Super Cup winners had come to Dubai with plenty of confidence.

They had little support from the stands; a large number of Wasl fans had made it to the game, sitting behind a giant banner that had "Forza Zabeel" written across; the face of a panther, Wasl's mascot, was also sketched on it. Maradona's drawing power at the turnstiles was on evidence for all.

The atmosphere, however, was far from intimidating. The visitors simply did not get the opportunity to settle down as Hassan Ali's relay into the box was deftly heeled into the net by Olivera for the night's opening goal.

Mariano Donda brought the home fans to their feet with a thundering right-footer in the 12th minute, but it skimmed over the bar. Two minutes later, though, Issa gave the Wahda keeper Mutaz Abdulla no chance, slotting home Ali's clever jab.

It could have been 3-0 in the 31st minute, but Edson Puch's left-footer missed the mark by inches, sailing over the crosspiece.

Wahda managed to take that score line into the break, but had to play the entire second-half with a man short after Saleh's petulant kick on Ali earned him a straight red in the 44th minute. The ball was already out of play when the frustrated Wahda midfielder lost his cool.

As the game resumed, Wahda's defensive strategy allowed little space for Maradona's sharpshooters.

The home team had most of the possession but few clear chances until Ali volleyed home Donda's pass in injury time.

arizvi@thenational.ae