Federico Cartabia spot on as Shabab Al Ahli defeat Al Nasr in President’s Cup final

Manager Mahdi Ali completes hat-trick of cup wins after 2-1 win in Al Ain

Shabab Al Ahli made it a triple treat in the cups this season, as the Dubai club captured the President’s Cup on Sunday by defeating Al Nasr 2-1 in a dramatic finale in Al Ain.

Having sealed the Arabian Gulf Cup last month by defeating the same opponents, the now 10-time President’s Cup champions triumphed at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium thanks to two contentious penalty decisions.

It was left to Federico Cartabia to keep his cool twice from the spot, the latter coming in the final minute in front of a limited crowd in the Garden City, which marked fans’ return to UAE football for the first time since February last year.

Nasr were right to contest both awards, with each coming after referee Ammar Al Junaibi had consulted his pitchside monitor.

In fact, Nasr manager Ramon Diaz was sent to the stands following the decision to give the first penalty, the Argentine coach penalised for pushing a touchline official.

The victory takes Mahdi Ali’s haul as Shabab Al Ahli manager to three trophies since his reappointment in December, with January’s Super Cup paving the way for twin domestic success this past month.

They had initially taken the lead not long before half-time, although Nasr were right to have felt hugely aggrieved. An innocuous challenge looked to have taken place just inside their penalty area, with Yaqoub Hassan out-jumping Carlos Eduardo for a high ball.

However, Eduardo fell to the turf clutching his ear, prompting Al Junaibi to race to his monitor. Much to everyone’s surprise, and Nasr’s dismay, Al Junaibi pointed to the spot having deemed Hassan to have led with his arm.

To is credit, Cartabia remained resolute, the Argentine whacking his spot-kick past Ahmed Shambiah, who guessed right but was a fraction too slow.

Subsequent replays showed that Diaz had pushed an official, albeit lightly, and he was shown a straight red before the match resumed.

Nasr were not only a goal down, but a manager too. Fortunately for Diaz, his son Emiliano is never far away; currently an assistant to his father, he became a vivid and vocal presence in the technical area.

Until then, the match had not really produced any major moments. Shabab Al Ahli forward Igor Jesus had lobbed the ball onto the roof of the net on five minutes, but a goal would not have stood anyway: the linesman had flagged for offside, although it transpired Jesus was actually very much on.

The best chance of the opening 45 minutes fell just before the half hour, to Nasr blue. Yet Sebastian Tagliabue, a President’s Cup winner previously with Al Wahda, headed over Diaa Saba’s corner when quickest to the cross. Inside the six-yard box and having stolen a march on his marker, the naturalised UAE international should have scored.

The same could perhaps be said for Jesus in first-half injury-time. Positioned a little further out than his Nasr counterpart, he directed his header too close to Shambiah. In truth, there was never enough purchase on the ball.

Soon after the second-half restart, Shabab Al Ali almost doubled their advantage. Cartabia’s low corner broke to Yousef Jaber, but the veteran full-back’s shot was blocked close to the line by Hussain Mahdi. Moments later, at the other end, Walid Abbas provided a brilliant interception to thwart Tagliabue.

Just after the hour, a mix-up in the Nasr defence presented Eduardo with an opportunity, only for Shambiah to stand equal to his curled effort. The former Al Hilal attacking midfielder did then have the ball in the net, but was correctly flagged for offside.

Twelve minutes from time, Nasr were level. Mahmoud Khamis’s outswinging corner was flicked on by Mohammed Ayed, finding Mehdi Abeid at the back post. The Nasr captain controlled the ball with his chest and close to his armpit, before prodding home.

Shabab Al Ahli protested wildly for handball; following an agonising wait, Al Junaibi was told by the Video Assistant Referee that the goal should indeed stand.

There was more drama to come. Right at the death, Ayed seemed to kick through Eduardo as the Brazilian controlled a low centre and, although the contact appeared minimal, Al Juneibi consulted his monitor one last time.

The penalty was given, leaving Cartabia to once more drill home from 12 yards. Shabab had beaten Nasr for a fourth time this campaign, and in the process, snatched UAE football’s most coveted cup.

Updated: May 16, 2021 11:51 PM

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