Super Cup: Goalkeeper is hero for Al Ain after penalty drama
Al Ain 0 Al Jazira 0
(After 90 mins. Al Ain win 5-4 on penalties)
DUBAI // In winning the Super Cup title on penalties tonight, Al Ain may have stumbled upon a solution to their continuing search for an Asian-born striker to replace Yasser Al Qahtani, their departed Saudi overseas player.
Perhaps they should think about hiding Dawoud Sulaiman's goalkeeping shirt, stealing his gloves and forcing him to play up front.
By the look of his match-winning penalty at the end of a seemingly interminable shoot-out at the Zabeel Stadium, Al Ain's custodian has a bright future as a goal-getting centre-forward. Or at least a penalty-taking goalkeeper in the mould of Paraguay's Jose Luis Chilavert or the Brazilian Rogerio Ceni.
The Pro League winners may have needed spot kicks to separate them from Al Jazira, the side who preceded them as champions of this country.
But they were deserving victors on the balance of play.
On the eve of the game, Cosmin Olaroiu, Al Ain's manager, had seemed about as underwhelmed about the onset of the new season as a child who had been given a pack of cards to replace their broken Xbox.
Their supporters, by contrast, were full of their usual zeal.
As long as two hours before kick off, the Al Ain followers had commandeered the car park at Al Wasl's Zabeel Stadium for their own party. Dress code: white with purple trim. Parking: anywhere you fancy. By the time of the kick off, the northern end of the ground, where their supporters were penned, was overpopulated – as is the norm when Al Ain play away from the Garden City.
While there were gaps at the Jazira end, the Al Ain faithful poured themselves into any available spaces in the aisles, or stood at the back of the stands.
It was hardly needed, but Asamoah Gyan, the champions' star striker, broke off from the pre-match formality photograph, ran to the supporters and gestured to gee them up.
It was like trying to light a fire that had already been burning for 30 minutes.
Olaroiu said the victory was a dual tribute to Walid Salem, the goalkeeper and captain of Al Ain, who was absent to be with his ill son, as well as the side's fans.
"They are our 12th, 13th, 14th, 20th players, and like always, we are trying to keep in step with them," the coach said. "They are pushing us in front always. It is the reason we play football.
"They are happy because of the football team, they are sad because of the football team.
"This is why we have given them two reasons to be happy and proud in the past few months. This is our reason to be here."
Gyan has enjoyed a rich affinity with his new public ever since he first made his surprise move from Sunderland in the English Premier League last year.
The Ghanaian striker did his best to give them something to cheer in the first phase, twice creating shooting chances, only to be thwarted.
He was a constant menace, and he set up the clearest chance possible for Omar Abdulrahman on the hour mark.
Abdulrahman, Al Ain's willowy playmaker, has enjoyed rave reviews this summer, after his exploits at the London Olympic Games then in a trial at Manchester City.
Yet his fitful display tonight reached a low when he sent the opening Gyan had created dribbling past the post.
Gyan did similar shortly after, but in fairness to him he was under pressure from an onrushing Ali Kasheif, the Jazira goalkeeper. He got to the ball first, only to divert it wide, and both players were flattened in the process.
If Abdulrahman is really going to make good on that move to Manchester City, or any other of Europe's leading clubs, he will be hoping the scouts only see the edited highlights of this cup final.
Skip the second-half blooper with the goal at his mercy. Then fast forward as rapidly as possible past the penalty miss at the end.
As the pendulum swayed throughout the shoot-out, it seemed as though Kasheif was going to be the Olympian making the headlines. The goalkeeper saved three of Al Ain's efforts from the spot.
It was harsh that he ended on the losing team.
The goals Al Ain did score from 12 yards out has to be perfect to beat him, but none were better than the decider, which Sulaiman drilled powerfully into the roof of the net to send the first trophy of the season heading to Al Ain.
"We were missing when it came to finishing, and the moment we started to control the game, Al Ain became more dangerous on the counter-attack," said Paulo Bonamigo, the Jazira coach.
"We lost this match, but we have proved to everybody we have reasons to be positive this season."
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