It should have been cause for great celebration for the UAE’s oldest football club.
On January 30, Al Nasr won the Arabian Gulf Cup, their first domestic trophy in 25 years, after beating Sharjah 4-1 at Rashid Stadium in Dubai. Yet the eyes of the rest of the country were firmly elsewhere.
On the same night that Al Nasr’s Australian captain Brett Holman lifted the cup, the UAE national team were defeating Iraq 3-2 in Australia to claim third place at the 2015 Asian Cup. It had been a tournament in which coach Mahdi Ali, Omar Abdulrahman, Ali Mabkhout and the rest of what is being called a golden generation were busy winning hearts and football matches in Australia.
Now Al Nasr have another shot at cup glory, and this time with the spotlight firmly on them.
Last week’s away victory over Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ain, thanks to a last-minute Ibrahima Toure winner, was unexpected. Saturday night’s home semi-final clash with Al Shabab seems a less-difficult assignment, and Nasr fans will expect coach Ivan Jovanovic’s men to advance to another cup final.
Nasr were fifth in the league, 21 points behind Al Ain, but the Dubai club may be moulding themselves as cup specialists.
Last May, Nasr defeated Saham of Oman to clinch the GCC Clubs Cup, and their grip on that trophy was broken only when Al Shabab knocked them out 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-final two weeks ago. A victory on Saturday, followed by a victory in the President’s Cup final on Wednesday, would erase their GCC Clubs Cup disappointment.
It is a welcome return to prominence for the country’s oldest club (established 1945), which in recent years had dropped out of the country’s elite. For years, they had lurched from one crisis to another and from one manager to the next, few lasting more than one year in the job.
Jovanovic, however, is completing his second season in Dubai and seems likely to be back for a third. With the attacking trio of Toure, Holman and Pablo Hernandez, he has delivered silverware, and a first President’s Cup triumph for Nasr since 1989 would be a great achievement.
Should Nasr make it to Wednesday’s final, one of Al Ahli or Al Dhafra will stand between them and glory. In different ways, they will be equally difficult.
Ahli seem to be rounding into the sort of form, finally, expected of them throughout the domestic season, while Dhafra have shown a tenacity that makes them much more than Makhete Diop and 10 friends.
First, they must overcome Shabab. Then thoughts can turn to adding the country’s most important cup to a growing list of trophies. For this one, Nasr would be the centre of attention.
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