‘We won a battle not a war’
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.”
Al Ahli’s Hugo Viana, left, struggled in the hot weather but managed to keep Omar Abdulrahman at bay in the Super Cup.