Big win for new coach Caio Junior as Al Jazira beat Diego Maradona's Al Wasl in Abu Dhabi.
Ricardo Oliveira scores as Al Jazira move to second in Pro League table
ABU DHABI // Ricardo Oliveira, the Pro League's most expensive signing, kept Al Jazira's title hopes alive with a late winner, sealing a 1-0 win over a resilient Al Wasl side at the Mohammad Bin Zayed stadium.
The former AC Milan player, bought for Dh62 million, settled a drab encounter with a cool finish in the 85th minute, leaving Jazira four points behind leaders Al Ain, who play their game today.
Until that moment, the match seemed set to bring further frustration for new Jazira coach Caio Junior, who replaced Franky Vercauteren last week. Following their exit from the Etisalat Cup semi-finals in Caio Junior's first match in charge – a 4-0 drubbing at the hands of Al Shabab – a draw here would have dealt a critical blow to their hopes of catching up with Al Ain. As it is, with only seven games left, overhauling the leaders presents the sternest challenge for Junior's men.
On balance, Jazira deserved it, looking the less disjointed side in a shapeless encounter. They were missing several key players, including Ibrahim Diaky and Juma Abdullah and first-choice goalkeeper Khalid Eisa and had, until Oliveira's goal, spurned the few chances they had eked out.
In fact, a second-half Wasl surge, orchestrated by the Argentine Mariano Donda, could have made matters considerably worse but Diego Maradona's men were ultimately lacking as much incision as Jazira. Hassan Ali missed an excellent chance at the death to steal an equaliser.
The game only livened up after the break - an assessment relative only to a lifeless and untidy first half, betraying the degree of rustiness in both sides that a month-long break in the Pro League is expected to bring on.
Jazira had dominated the earliest of those cramped skirmishes, through some intricate short passing through and some clever movement from Oliveira.
None of it came to much other than a series of wasted corners and Ahmed Mahmoud, replacing Wasl's suspended Majed Naser in goal, was not worked.
When they did create openings, Caio Junior would have understood why his predecessor did not regularly start with Bare, the Brazilian forward. Bare looked off the pace, first shooting wastefully high after 20 minutes and then not sharp enough to utilise a presentable opportunity inside the penalty box after 36 minutes.
Until then, the most significant Wasl action was - as is customary - to be found on the touchline where Maradona alternated between hurried gesticulation and abrupt moments of calm.
The introduction of Ahmed Juma down the right added some incision and direction to Jazira after the break.
Immediately, he produced two delicious crosses, the second of which Oliveira should have headed home. And before he was substituted, the Argentine Matias Delgado had become an elusive and wandering threat in the final third.
But as no reward came and Donda became more influential, the distinct possibility of Wasl stealing a result arose.
Fahad Hadeed, busy all night, shot over, Hassan Ali headed just over; the Iranian Reza Khalatban could have scored and Donda shouldhave when he pounced on a defensive error. Indeed the story would have been of waste had it not been for Oliveira's final, decisive contribution.