x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Matar can still provide the magic

On a hectic night of sweaty proportions and wealthy Brazilians, all that mattered was Matar.

Al Wahda's Ismail Matar runs with the ball.
Al Wahda's Ismail Matar runs with the ball.

On a hectic night of sweaty proportions and wealthy Brazilians, all that mattered was Matar. This was an evening billed as the return of the UAE league, though not as we know it. Several clubs have frosted themselves with some nifty names during the summer, but the pungent Ismail Matar's piercing run and shot for the equalising goal could have occurred at any time over the past five seasons. As far as the local fans are concerned, this is a man who has mercury in his boots.

The Etisalat Pro League has changed its name, but as Shakespeare once wrote, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Matar's goal to earn a 1-1 draw with their Abu Dhabi neighbours Al Jazira was so sweet it was coated in sugar, just the way the locals like their football and their tea. At such times, Matar and his Al Wahda side are a heady brew. Abdul Salam Juma's goal in the 44th minute for Jazira also held some appeal, the ball finding its way into the net with some haste from long range.

The Wahda manager Ahmed Abdulhalim likes a smoke. This hoary old figure was clearly happy to be back for more on Saturday night. He managed to rid himself of the tobacco before raising his hands in a grateful gesture after Matar's 86th-minute shot redeemed his side. He was probably happier for a drag afterwards to calm his nerves. Nothing in these matches has altered all that much. Names on shirts are now painted in English as well as Arabic, but goalkeepers continue to guard their goal with some ghastly moments, players feign injury with some relish and an effective deadball planted in the box leaves defenders lost. Mayhem remains a pivotal stanchion of the new league. Whenever the home fans muster the energy to get along to such games, they continue to revel in the Emiratis, even if the UAE's aim of progressing to the World Cup finals lies as empty as the Al Wahda shopping centre during daylight hours this month.

Jazira shop at some exclusive outlets, but all gratuities went to Matar. Then there was the home side's very own Brazilian forward Pinga, who was unfortunate in slamming an early header into a post. Wahda went at this game with some venom. One wonders what the new Jazira head coach Abel Braga and Rafael Sobis, his striker who was signed from Real Betis for a monstrous Dh65million, made of such shenanigans.

The home team also rattled the bar, and Pinga missed from close range only for an offside flag to spare him, and were denied a winning goal by an offside decision. It must be said, Sobis was disappointing here. One cannot be too harsh after only one outing, but he seemed to sit too deep. Having sampled the game at a more manic level than this in Spain, he appeared downtrodden, like he had run into misfortune in Pamplona's running of the bulls.

This must have seemed like a chess match by comparison to a derby between Sevilla and Real Betis, with plenty of air between the seats at both ends. An irate Sobis was booked and substituted, but he will be back for more. We are now in professional times, but thank goodness the semblance of amateur nonsense remains with us. Let the mayhem continue. @Email:dkane@thenational.ae