Diego Maradona's wayward Al Wasl players lose their heads

The Dubai side's indisciplined performance against Al Muharraq is a game Maradona will not want the rest of the world to see, writes Paul Oberjuerge.

Diego Maradona shows his disappointment after Wasl lost the penalty shoot-out 5-4. Mike Young / The National
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This was a match Diego Maradona will not want the rest of the world to see.

His Al Wasl side were indisciplined, error-prone, openly contemptuous of each other on the pitch and unable to hold a two-goal lead in 90 minutes nor a one-goal lead in a shoot-out. It was a nightmare of disorganisation and wretched execution, and it came a day after he had promised his opponents would not score a goal.

Wasl ended the game with nine men on the pitch because both Majed Naser and Rashid Essa were sent off for butting opponents, the former in the 10th minute and the latter in the 78th.

The survivors on the pitch spent a lot of time bickering with each other, and the net result was a thoroughly dysfunctional side that seemed to melt into a puddle of goo during a sweltering June Dubai evening.

How much of that is about Wasl's coach? The man has been with his team for a full year, and they fell to pieces last night in the final game of the region's football season. It would be disingenuous to suggest Fifa's co-Player of the Century bears no responsibility.

Maradona thus concludes his first season at the Dubai club with buckets of attention but an empty trophy cabinet. Out of the President's Cup in the quarter-finals, losers in the semi-finals of the Etisalat cup, eighth in the 12-team Pro League.

When this game kicked off Wasl were in prime position to finally win something, the GCC Club Championship, the least significant trophy a Pro League side can win.

A 12-team competition that had zero teams from Saudi Arabia and the fifth- and sixth-placed teams from the Pro League.

Wasl pursued the second-tier trophy like it was the Uefa Champions League. Maradona rested regulars in the final Pro League game, a 6-2 defeat to Al Ahli, to have them ready for the GCC matches.

The Argentine laughably demanded that Iran return Mohammed Reza Khalatbari two days before a World Cup qualifier. Carlos Quieroz, the Iran coach, scolded him for his pertinence.

For a time, Wasl seemed on course for a tiny trophy. They won 3-1 in the first leg of the final, in Bahrain.

Even a one-goal defeat at the nearly full Zabeel Stadium would be enough to give Maradona his first trophy as a coach. Fans were there for the celebration of something, finally, with Maradona's name on it. But Wasl came off the rails early.

It started with Naser, the hotheaded goalkeeper who after an Etisalat Cup game had slapped the Ahli coach Quique Sanchez Flores, which earned the Wasl keeper a 17-match suspension by the Football Association's Disciplinary Committee. Because this tournament was not a domestic competition, Naser was allowed to play, and Wasl urged him to return from his self-imposed retirement.

After Muharraq's first goal, Naser showed the folly of allowing him on the pitch. He threw a body block at one player and butted a second. It was astonishing, even given his history.

Wasl at half time had recovered their two-goal edge, but the next phase of their collapse was to come.

Almost from the start, Maradona's players had been pointing at each other, seeming to assess blame from a distance. Mariano Donda, the Argentine, several times glared at teammates who hadn't performed to his expectations, and once he lingered over a throw-in, clearly disgusted at the dispositions of his teammates.

Maradona, meanwhile, did nothing but watch the game, which degenerated into an ugly, chippy affair.

That a second player could lose control in the same match was shocking, but it happened in front of the Wasl bench. Essa was fouled, rolled around the pitch theatrically (even by Emirati standards), and may have been mocked by a Muharraq player. Or not. Ultimately, as a Muharraq player was being shown a yellow card, Essa butted another Muharraq player, and was shown a red.

On his way off the pitch, he nearly fought with one of Maradona's assistants.

The game ended 3-1, producing a 4-4 aggregate, and it went to penalties. One of Maradona's hand-picked expatriates, Juan Ignacio Mercier, skied his chance over the bar, and the final attempt, by Mubarak Hassan, was saved, and that was that.

Zabeel Stadium quickly emptied, aside from a handful of fans who stayed behind to heap abuse on Naser, who came back on the pitch to accept his silver medal. Their ire was, perhaps, incorrectly targeted.

After the match, Maradona said: "I don't regret anything I did this season."

Wasl, however, no doubt do.

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