Clarets storm into 3-0 lead only to let Al Ain back in it, but Abu Dhabi side claim victory in 4-3 penalty shootout win
What a season it is shaping up to be in the Arabian Gulf League if this frenetic Super Cup clash is any indication.
Al Wahda, last season’s Arabian Gulf Cup champions, toppled league and President’s Cup winners Al Ain, but only on a penalties after squandering a 3-0 lead.
Following the shock and bitter departure of Omar Abdulrahman to boyhood club Al Hilal this summer, the opening 45 minutes of action of the 2018/19 UAE season looked like the Boss’ death knell might have been sounded after last season’s league runners-up ruthlessly exposed the double winners.
As if pained by the way they meagrely fell off in pursuit of Zoran Mamic’s side in the AGL title race last season, Wahda’s blistering start against the Boss was simply breathtaking.
It was some statement from Laurentiu Reghecampf’s side, who wasted no time in making it, racing into a 2-0 lead inside eight minutes.
UAE defender Mohammed Ahmed got himself in a right mess as he tried to fool Sebastian Tagliabue with a backheel, but the veteran Argentine blocked his effort and then advanced into the box, feeding a sublime ball between the Al Ain defence for club legend Ismail Matar to calmly sidefoot home with four minutes gone.
More calamitous Cairo defending saw the Clarets double the lead three minutes later, although there was still plenty for Mourad Batna to do after he robbed Tsukasa Shiotani on the touchline.
The Moroccan attacker, who was excellent in his debut season last term, advanced and curled a sumptuous effort over Khalid Essa in the Al Ain goal, the ball crashing in off the underside of the crossbar.
The Boss looked totally bamboozled and fell 3-0 behind, only for the referee’s whistle to deny Batna a second.
The Al Ain goal was under constant attack and Essa brilliantly palmed away Mohamed Abdulbasit’s placed effort after more suicidal defending.
Abdulbasit was then involved as the AGL and President’s Cup champions were thrown a lifeline – the midfielder tugged Hussein El Shahat in the box and the referee pointed to the spot, though the Egyptian schemer’s tumble was a tad dramatic.
He was not punished though as Marcus Berg – who forced himself to the top of the AGL scoring charts last year with 25 goals plundered in 20 games, saw his spot kick stunningly tipped over by a brilliant Rashed Ali save.
And three minutes later, Wahda were 3-0 to the good following another fine counter-attacking move.
Matar chipped out to the right flank for the rampaging Batna. His first-time cross was almost perfect, right onto the head of Tagliabue who cleverly nodded past Essa who was moving the opposite way.
The second half though belonged to the Boss. They were instantly on the front foot and had clearly shaken off the rust that enveloped them in the opening 45 minutes.
One goal was pulled back just after the hour when El Shahat’s excellent through ball split the defence and found Berg, this time his finish was composed past Ali.
A second penalty provided a chance of redemption for the Swede 11 minutes later when one of the most experienced men on the field, one-time Lyon defender Hamdan Al Kamali, idiotically scythed down Caio after he latched onto a throw-in.
But the responsibility was passed to veteran Ibrahim Diaky, and the 35-year-old confidently dispatched the spot kick past the desperate dive of Ali to make it 3-2.
The inevitable happened minutes later when a hopeful punt into the box wasn’t cleared properly by Mohamed Al Menhali whose header only fell to Caio. The Brazilian used the full-back to bend a beautiful shot into the far corner beyond Ali to bring the Boss back from the brink.
They were now the more likely winners and Diaky thundered the crossbar when he connected acrobatically with Caio’s dinked cross.
But no more goals were found so to penalties it went. Tagliabue saw his spot kick saved by Essa to give Mamic’s side the advantage, but Ali’s save from El Shahat and Caio’s wayward effort put the Clarets in command.
And after Al Kamali made amends, summer arrival Leonardo De Sousa stroked home to end a pulsating encounter. More of the same when the AGL season kicks off in a week’s time would be welcome.