Al Wahda prove too strong for Hekari United, the Papua New Guinea club, as the UAE club celebrates a 3-0 win to kick off the Club World Cup.
Wonderful Wahda start Club World Cup with a bang
Al Wahda 3 (Hugo 40', Baiano 44' Jumaa 71') Hekari United 0
ABU DHABI // The last time a team from the Middle East came up against a side from Oceania, Qatar held off fancied competition from Australia to win the right to host the 2022 World Cup.
Last night, under the bright lights of the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and in front of a colourful, vocal crowd, Al Wahda, the Pro League champions, showed the world that the Gulf can triumph on the football pitch as well as in Fifa boardrooms.
As a contest, the first round of the Club World Cup is an anomaly in that the losing team go home without playing a second match.
Hekari United, the little-known Oceanic champions from Papua New Guinea, said beforehand they would play with no pressure.
Wahda, meanwhile, having qualified as host representatives and knowing the tournament returns to Japan from next year, were desperate not to emulate Al Ahli, the Dubai-based club who fell at the first hurdle last year.
Such an upset never looked likely with the experienced Brazilian pair of Hugo and Fernando Baiano keen to impress on the world stage.
They both netted a goal apiece in the space of four first-half minutes - Hugo's was a peach - before Abdulraheem Jumaa, the substitute, added a third midway through the second period as Wahda ran out comfortable 3-0 winners.
Hekari may be from the lowest ranked country in Fifa's world rankings, but they started the brighter of the two sides, with Pita Bolatoga almost opening the scoring in the sixth minute.
The defender met Henry Faarodo's near-post corner with a powerful downwards header and Adel al Hosani, the Wahda goalkeeper, was relieved to see the ball cleared off the line by Fahed Masoud.
But as the game went on, the home side settled and should have taken the lead on the half hour when Ismail Matar was played through by Baiano.
The Emirati forward, however, dragged his shot wastefully wide. The former UAE captain may have shown profligacy in front of goal, but he did well to help create the opening goal 10 minutes later.
Having held off three defenders, Matar laid the ball to Masoud, whose cross was knocked down clumsily by Mahmoud al Hammadi into the path of Hugo.
With the ball rolling on to the former Gremio midfielder's left foot, he showed composure to drill a superb first-time shot past Simione Tamanisau, the Hekari goalkeeper, into the corner. And, as in Qatar last Thursday, thousands of men in Middle Eastern dress and holding purple flags began to wave them wildly.
Four minutes later, Wahda had breathing space. Masoud split a trio of white shirts with an excellent through-ball to Baiano and the Brazilian, who has scored six league goals this season and saw a similar chance saved moments earlier, smashed a shot low to beat Tamanisau at his near post.
The half-time whistle could not have come quick enough for Hekari, yet after the restart, Wahda continued to threaten. The Oceanic champions offered little up front and the scoreline could have turned embarrassing had Matar and Baiano found the target early in the second period.
Hugo was being afforded far too much time in midfield and both wide men were experiencing an enjoyable amount of space, yet the Abu Dhabi side were showing complacency in attack.
With Tommy Mana's men starting to realise their long trip from the Pacific Islands was about to result in an early - and no doubt even longer - return flight home, heads began to drop and Wahda eventually added a polish to the final result.
Following a communication breakdown between the defender Koriak Upaiga and Tamanisau, Jumaa was left with a simple header to round off a perfect start to Wahda's debut Club World Cup campaign.
They will now face Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma, the champions of Asia, in Saturday's quarter-final, and can start to dream just ever so slightly about meeting Inter Milan in the semi-finals.