Al Nasr defeat Sharjah to lift Arabian Gulf Cup

Nasr 'exceed expectations' to end 25-year wait and claim title, while sorry Sharjah look for positives.

DUBAI , UNITED ARAB EMIRATES – Jan 30 , 2015 : Al Nasr team celebrating after wining the Arabian Gulf Cup at Rashid stadium in Dubai. They beat Sharjah by 4 - 1. ( Pawan Singh / The National ) For Sports. Story by Gary
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DUBAI // Ivan Jovanovic hung in the air like tickertape. The diminutive and dapper Al Nasr coach was on Friday night thrown aloft by his jubilant Al Nasr team after ending the Dubai-based club’s agonising 25-year wait for a domestic trophy.

Nasr had not won a domestic title since the UAE Super Cup in 1990, but they proved worthy winners of the Arabian Gulf Cup at Rashid Stadium, comfortably beating Sharjah 4-1 courtesy of a 10-minute opening period that yielded three goals.

Jovanovic’s side immediately appeared like a team intent on securing national honours for the first time in a quarter of a century, pressing ferociously from kick-off. It paid off immediately. Ibrahima Toure, identified by Sharjah captain Mauricio Ramos as the danger man, reacted quickest to a clever free-kick from Pablo Hernandez in the third minute and Rashid Ahmed, the opposition’s second-choice goalkeeper, spilled the knock-on into his own net.

Not since 2010 has the team that scored first in the Arabian Gulf Cup final managed to retain the lead to convert it into a trophy, but any doubts that Nasr would break the trend were dismissed when Hernandez, the Spanish debutant, added a second in the eighth minute.

The former Valencia and Swansea No10 collected a slide-rule pass from Brett Holman and finished neatly into the far corner. Sharjah had been steamrollered, but it got worse two minutes later when Toure struck again, this time a classy volley on the turn off a free-kick. Again, Ahmed should have done better to keep it out.

“We put in a much better performance than I expected because it is a final and in finals strange things can happen,” Jovanovic said. “For us to score three goals so quickly gave us the advantage and allowed us to play our game and relax a little. Pablo Hernandez played excellent.”

Indeed he did. The Spaniard only signed for Nasr on Thursday yet slipped perfectly into the midfield alongside captain Brett Holman and was a constant source of creativity. Not only that, he chased down every ball, earning a standing ovation from the 5,000-plus Nasr support.

The Sharjah fans unsurprisingly were not in such a celebratory mood. After the trio of sucker-punches, despite barely 10 minutes having passed, television images showed red and white fans streaming out of the stadium.

Some will have turned back when Rodriguinho finished off a smart counter-attack moments later and things could have been different had Yousif Saeed’s header snuck into the far corner rather than rebounding off the cross bar. Instead, 15 minutes into the second half, Shahin Abdulrahman fouled Hernandez in the area and Mahmoud Khamis sent Ahmed the wrong way from the penalty spot.

“In a final, the start and end are so important and our start was terrible,” Paulo Bonamigo, Sharjah’s Brazilian coach, said. “We suffered in the first 10 minutes, but the most disappointing factor was we knew they were strong from set pieces yet we conceded twice from set pieces early on. We were expecting a better result than what we got, but we have to look to the positives: we reached the final.”

In the final half-hour, Toure missed three one-on-ones as his hat-trick eluded him. He was removed by Jovanovic after being booked for performing a provocative handstand during a stoppage. Toure’s comedy act may have ended there, but the fun resumed on the final whistle as Jovanovic was hoisted aloft like the cup itself and his squad sprayed him with water.

“This was a very pleasant day for the whole Nasr family,” he said. “For us, it was a very important final because after many, many years we had the chance to win a final in the UAE. Tonight the players reached the level we want to be at, so now we look positively to the future.”

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