x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Penalty salvages point for Al Ain as tempers boil over

Al Wasl held to a 2-2 draw as rival managers Diego Maradona and Cosmin Olaroiu refuse to bury the hatchet with each other.

Al Ain’s Fawzi Fayez, centre, shields the ball from Al Wasl defenders in last night’s match. Mike Young / The National
Al Ain’s Fawzi Fayez, centre, shields the ball from Al Wasl defenders in last night’s match. Mike Young / The National

DUBAI // The troubled history between Diego Maradona and Cosmin Olaroiu simmered under the surface again last night as Al Wasl and Al Ain played out a 2-2 draw.

Wasl's Maradona and Al Ain's Olaroiu, seemed a bit more serious than usual, conscious of the build-up to the game which had focused on the animosity between the two.

After the game Maradonna said: "I will congratulate him when he wins the league but otherwise I don't have anything for this man."

And he did not shake hands with the visiting coach at the end of the match even though he hugged and congratulated both his own and the Al Ain players.

Olaroiu said: "I will not bury the hatchet because he doesn't deserve it."

Maradonna was also critical of a penalty decision which gave Al Ain the draw.

"They did not deserve the penalty," the Argentine said. "The ref gifted it to them and all the hard work was spoiled by the ref's decision.

"The contact was legal and there was no reason for a penalty."

The much anticipated clash lived up to its billing with 90 minutes of exciting football.

Mohammed Reza Khalatbari equalised for Wasl, the seven-time league champions, in the 65th minute after the hosts had conceded a 36th goal.

Juan Manuel Olivera delighted the home fans with Wasl's second two minutes later, but Asamoah Gyan was the darling of the visiting fans as his brace helped Al Ain, the nine-time winners of the league title and current leaders, return home with a point.

The tone for the game was set by the early arrival of the Al Ain fans. Taking their place in the stands almost two hours before kick-off, they created plenty of noise, cheering their team as the players came out for the warm-up, and jeering the hosts.

Not enough Wasl supporters had arrived by then, but they gradually filled up the stands and by kick-off, most had taken their seats, ready for their first league match at the Zabeel Stadium in 59 days.

It was one of the biggest crowds - given as 10,492 - to assemble at the Zabeel Stadium this season and the security arrangements had made sure the two sets of fans were segregated properly. The fans had been taunting each other online through the past week.

There was the momentary burst of emotions, but Olaroiu made sure he did not celebrate Al Ain's opening goal like the way he did in November during the Etisalat Cup match after which Maradonna described the Romanian as "rude". It was muted reaction as Gyan muscled his way to Yasser Al Qahtani's header and booted it home in the 36th minute.

Maradona's reaction was a bit more dramatic than Olaroiu's. The Argentine legend cupped his face in his hands and kept screaming under his breath.

Maradona's frustrating screams could be heard in the second half as well, with his team playing like they had the lead. They showed no urgency and an impatient Maradona could be seen venting his anger.

In the 65th minute, though, he was nodding approvingly, hands on his waist, as Khalatbari headed in the equaliser.

Two minutes later, Maradona was pumping his fists in jubilation as Olivera put the hosts ahead. The Uruguayan striker jumped high over his marker to head in Tariq Hassan's cross.

Al Ain had a great chance of equalising in the 81st minute when Gyan drew the defenders away and tricked the Wasl goalkeeper, but Ignacio Scocco failed to put his pass into the back of the net. Three minutes, Gyan earned a penalty after being pushed down by Tariq Hassan.

The Wasl defender had to leave the pitch for the infringement, his second booking of the night, and Gyan converted from the spot.

Maradona was not happy with the referee's penalty decision and he made it known after the game, walking up to the official to give him an earful.

Olaroiu said his players were struggling with a lack of match action.

"We have problems because we are playing once every two weeks, so it is difficult to keep our players motivated," he said.