Al Nasr end 26-year wait and beat Al Ahli in penalty shootout to hoist President’s Cup trophy

After two scoreless 15-minute extra periods, Pablo Hernandez, Renan Garcia and Ibrahima Toure converted their spot kicks in the shootout to lead Al Nasr to their first President's Cup title since 1989, writes John McAuley.

Al Nasr celebrate defeating Al Ahli in the President's Cup final match at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on June 3, 2015. Christopher Pike / The National
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AL AIN // Ivan Jovanovic struggled to watch, pitched yards away from where the Al Nasr bench lined the touchline, arms wrapped around one another and with nerves frayed.

The Serbian coach had witnessed his side prevail on penalties during the President’s Cup semi-final only days previously, but here they were, at the UAE’s gleaming Hazza bin Zayed Stadium contesting the country’s most coveted prize.

Oussama Assaidi, Luis Jimenez and Abdelaziz Sanquor all missed from the spot for Al Ahli, soon to depart Al Ain beaten and broken.

Nasr, though, stood strong: first Pablo Hernandez, then Renan Garcia, then Ibrahima Toure. With three swipes of the boot, a 26-year wait was consigned to history; Nasr had a fourth President’s Cup.

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Finally, blue is the colour. Jovanovic, last seen mobbed by members of his back-room staff as the rest rushed onto the pitch, emerged post-celebrations with pride etched across his face.

“I believe as a team that we absolutely deserved to win this cup,” he said. “Because if you see the teams we had to qualify against, after we played against opponents like Sharjah, Al Ain, Al Shabab and today, Al Ahli, the value of this cup is great. I must congratulate the efforts of my players, they did a very big job.”

For the majority of normal time, it appeared not to be enough. Contesting their third successive President’s Cup final, Ahli seemed set to seal the trophy for a record ninth time when Ahmed Khalil headed them in front on 36 minutes. From there, they dominated possession, always carried the greater threat.

Nasr had struggled to penetrate Ahli until right at the death, but were gifted a lifeline once Kwon Kyung-won sliced Ahmed Ibrahim’s cross into his own goal. There was one minute of normal time remaining; it was Nasr’s first attempt on target.

Extra time negotiated in devilishly draining conditions, Nasr proved spotless from the spot. Not that it looked it at the time, but Jovanovic thought the outcome was never in doubt.

“I know in a penalty shoot-out you cannot predict what will happen,” he said. “But as team we showed throughout the game that we had confidence. And I was calm because I knew that before and during the game we had done what we could as a team.

“If you want something you have to suffer the consequences. The final is only one game and it doesn’t mean that the team with more quality will win. But the team who wanted it more won this cup.”

So last year’s GCC Clubs Cup champions, and this season’s Arabian Gulf Cup winners, now have a third crown to cradle. In two seasons with Nasr, Jovanovic has turned a club without a trophy in 25 years into silverware specialists. The next step? Well, there is only one way to go from here.

“When a coach wins trophies like the Gulf Cup, the League Cup and then President’s Cup with his team, the next one is the league,” said Jovanovic, whose counterpart Cosmin Olaroiu did not speak after the game.

“All these trophies can only make Al Nasr stronger to try and win more titles, to compete for the league.

“As a coach, and as a team, we need to make the next step and that’s build a side that can try to win the league. All together, we’re going to do our best to make the team stronger for next season.”

Thanks to the victory, next season includes a return to the Asian Champions League, too. Another fresh target, it was lost in the hullabaloo that followed.

“Ah, I forgot the President’s Cup gave us the Champions League,” Jovanovic said when reminded. “I’m more happy now.”

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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