‘We won a bat­tle not a war’

The National - News - Sport - - FOOTBALL - Amith Pas­sela apas­[email protected]­ational.ae

ABU DHABI // Ma­jed Naser cel­e­brated his re­call to the UAE national team af­ter two years away by sav­ing a pair of spot kicks for Al Ahli in their 3-2 shootout vic­tory over Al Ain in the sea­son-open­ing Su­per Cup.

The mav­er­ick goal­keeper, who had a wa­ter bot­tle thrown at him and picked up a yel­low card for his de­lay­ing tac­tics, saved penal­ties from Omar Ab­dul­rah­man and, the clincher, Ibrahim Di- aky to turn the hero of the match watched by more than 25,000 on a hot and hu­mid night at the Mo­hammed bin Zayed Sta­dium. Naser, who re­turned to ac­tion mid­way last sea­son af­ter serv­ing a lengthy sus­pen­sion from the FA’s Dis­ci­plinary Com­mit­tee, was named in the 23-mem­ber squad in next week’s OSN Cup, a fourteam friendly tour­na­ment in Saudi Ara­bia. Cos­min Olaroiu, the Al Ain coach, gave his goal­keeper the thumbs up as one of the best men in the job in the coun­try. “At this time he is the best goal­keeper in the coun­try,” the Ro­ma­nian said. “When we went into the penalty shootout I was al­most sure we were go­ing to win be­cause Ma­jed is very good when it goes into the penal­ties. “We were think­ing about this for a long time. Ma­jed has been work­ing on the spot kicks for three weeks be­cause we knew the game may go into a shootout.”

Khalid Essa, mak­ing his de­but for Al Ain af­ter his move from Al Jazira in the sum­mer, blocked Luis Jimenez’s first spot kick but Ceil, Hugo Viana and Ab­du­laziz San­qour were on tar­get af­ter Asamoah Gyan had put the Gar­den City club ahead with the first shot.

Ahli were re­duced to 10 men fol­low­ing a di­rect red to Ma­jed Has­san for a nasty tackle from be­hind on Ab­dul­rah­man with three min­utes of in­jury time left, but it mat­tered lit­tle as the game went di­rectly to the shootout.

Al Ain were the bet­ter team in the first half. They had three ef­forts at the Ahli goal, all from Gyan, one of which crashed against the cross­bar.

Ahli’s only shot at the Al Ain goal came two min­utes from the break, a curl­ing ball from Viana, the Por­tu­gal in­ter­na­tional, that was pushed out by a div­ing Essa. He made an­other bril­liant stop to deny Ciel scor­ing from a pow­er­ful shot on the hour.

“It was a dif­fi­cult match in an en­ergy- sap­ping weather con­di­tions,” Olaroiu said. “Al Ain started ag­gres­sively and they made pres­sure. I knew they can’t con­tinue in the same man­ner for long.

“We played lot bet­ter in the sec­ond half and I can only con­grat­u­late my play­ers for a good game. We have won a bat­tle but not the war. We must look ahead with mod­esty and keep work­ing for the com­pe­ti­tions ahead.

“We made a few mis­takes in the first but for­tu­nately we didn’t get pun­ished. We need to fix a few things, for the games to come, but the im­por­tant thing is that the play­ers showed real char­ac­ter to win this game.”

Satish Kumar / The National

Al Ahli’s Hugo Viana, left, strug­gled in the hot weather but man­aged to keep Omar Ab­dul­rah­man at bay in the Su­per Cup.

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