The story of the match
Football is a team game, but one player stood above all to be the difference as Al Wahda ended Al Ain’s three-match winning streak in the Arabian Gulf League on Saturday night.
Marquee signing Jorge Valdivia returned from a two-match suspension and Dh15,000 fine levied for an inappropriate hand gesture in time to play the trump card.
Valdivia not only played a key role for Wahda but drew the attention of his opponents, who left large swathes of space for his teammates.
The Chile international had a hand in both of the goals his teammate Sebastian Tagliabue scored in a 2-1 victory at Al Nahyan Stadium.
Emmanuel Emenike pulled one back for Al Ain in the 65th minute when he scored his third league goal on a tap-in from an Omar Abdulrahman free kick.
That helped keep the game alive, but Wahda did enough to preserve the lead during an increasingly edgy final 25 minutes for their second win in four games.
The game sprang to life after a dull 18 minutes. Valdivia back-headed a high ball towards Mohammed Al Akbari, who sent a dipping cross over Al Ain centre-back Ismail Ahmed. That left Tagliabue unchallenged in front of the goalkeeper, Khaled Essa.
The closest Al Ain came to scoring in that half was when Ismail Ahmed managed to get the ball into the back of the net with a sliding effort in added time following a move from a set piece, but the goal was disallowed for offside.
Wahda extended their lead in the 56th minute when Valdivia eluded the Al Ain defence to set up Tagliabue with a clear shot from inside the area. But their two-goal cushion lasted less than 10 minutes after Emenike scored his fifth goal in all competitions this season.
Wahda finished with 10 men after captain Ismail Matar, who came on in the 60th minute as a substitute, was shown his second caution in added time.
Coach Javier Aguirre’s Wahda side were shown eight yellow cards to Al Ain’s one.
Man of the match
Jorge Valdivia It is hard to overlook the contribution of Tagliabue, whose two goals gave him six in four league matches and left him on pace to eclipse the 28 he scored in his first season with Wahda, in 2013/14. But Valdivia has quickly become the fulcrum of the Wahda attack and the man who preoccupies opponents.
What the managers said
Al Wahda coach Javier Aguirre showered praise on summer signing Jorge Valdivia, the Chilean midfielder, after his side handed Al Ain a 2-1 defeat, their first of the Arabian Gulf League season.
“Players like Valdivia are the kind who can rise to the big occasion, and tonight he played a massive role in our victory,” the Mexican said.
“He controlled the pace of the game whenever it mattered, made some excellent passes and created the second goal with a stand-out pass. We know how good he is and hope he can continue with the good work.”
Valdivia is playing in the UAE top flight for the second time. His first stay encompassed two seasons, 2008/09 and 2009/10, with Al Ain. He helped the Garden City side win the President’s Cup, 1-0 over Al Shabab, and the league cup, 1-0 over Wahda, in 2009.
Valdivia was a popular player with the Al Ain supporters before he left the club, following the 2010 World Cup.
Aguirre denied his side had played much better after successive defeats to Shabab (1-0) and Al Jazira (3-2).
“I always choose the best starting XI with the intention of winning every game,” he said. “We played pretty well in the games we lost to Al Shabab and Al Jazira. We didn’t deserve to lose those two matches.”
Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain coach, said his side were a bit impatient and paid the price.
“In the first half, we tried to control and wanted to play a fast game, but we made a defensive mistake to concede an early goal,” he said.
“In the second half, we played a more offensive game but again conceded a goal and it became hard to get back.
“After going down a goal we tried to score quickly. That wasn’t the right approach. The players need to be patient and could have bid their time. But this is football.
“We must give credit to Wahda for a good game. They marked our players well and made fewer mistakes than us. They are also a good team with some good signings this season.”
Aguirre added: “Overall, we played a good game. Al Ain enjoyed a lot of possession, but we stuck to a strategy to attack whenever we had the ball. It was a really good performance.”
Dalic added: “We had a few opportunities to score but didn’t score and lost a game for the first time in a long time. Perhaps we didn’t play well.”
The National’s verdict
Wahda cannot be ruled out as a title challenger after their performance against the champions. They made an impressive start, winning their opener 4-0 against Fujairah, but their credentials as a challenger took a dip when they were beaten by Al Shabab and Al Jazira. On Saturday night, they showed they are back in business.
Al Jazira stunned by Dibba
Dibba twice came back from a goal down to record a 4-2 home victory over Al Jazira for their first win in the Arabian Gulf League.
Goals from Boris Kabi, Saeed Mohamed, Tariq Ahmed and Bakary Kone earned three points for Theo Bucker’s side. The visitors made the breakthrough at the Fujairah Stadium after 34 minutes through summer signing Jefferson Farfan, but Kabi levelled before the interval.
Al Jazira restored their lead in the 53rd minute through Fares Juma before Dibba scored three times in the final 17 minutes. Elsewhere, Baniyas and Al Shabab maintained their unbeaten records as they cancelled each other out in a 1-1 draw at Baniyas Stadium with goals from Fawaz Awana for the hosts and Jo for Shabab.
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