Magrao checks in for Al Wahda in President's Cup semi-final

A holding player at best and a rarity among Brazilian imports, the man nicknamed 'Skinny' gets his pound of flesh in key game against Al Wasl.

ABU DHABI // Magrao is a defence-first midfielder who comes forward carefully, if at all, making him the great exception among the UAE's Brazilian imports, nearly all of them attacking players who were expected to start scoring goals within hours of clearing passport control.

Imagine the surprise, then, at Zayed Sports City Stadium last night when Magrao was the key figure in both goals for Al Wahda as they defeated Al Wasl 2-1 and advanced to the President's Cup final.

The gangling man whose nickname means "skinny" in Portuguese, used a clever back-heel in the box to set up his compatriot, Hugo, for the opener in the 17th minute and was in the right place at the right time to volley home a punched clearance by the Wasl goalkeeper Majed Naser in the 30th minute.

Magrao may not have been in position to make the difference had Fernando Baiano, Wahda's Brazilian striker, been healthy enough to be in the first XI.

"To be honest, Magrao is a holding player, an excellent holding player," Josef Hickersberger, Wahda's Austrian coach, said.

"If we play up front with two strikers we need him in defence to protect our goal. But if we play with one striker and with Hugo behind Ismail [Matar], then he has more chances to move forward.

"He showed in this game he can score goals and that he's dangerous in the box. That was vital for us."

Sergio Farias, the Wasl coach and also a Brazilian, said he was not surprised to see Magrao producing goals.

"I know him from Brazil, and we told the players about him when we were training for this match," he said. "But the players did not do as they were told in marking him."

Wahda's victory means the defending Pro League champions have a chance to win a trophy this season, after all.

After falling out of league contention back in December and exiting the Etisalat Cup in the semi-finals two weeks ago, the Abu Dhabi club are one victory away from their first President's Cup title since 2000.

They are so close because they were able to hold off Wasl's fightback in the second half, one which included a goal by the half-time substitute Rashed Essa and a spirited performance by the Brazilian forward Alexandre Oliveria, also a substitute.

"This is the most important match for us because it gives us a chance to win silverware and save our season," Hickersberger said.

"We were very good in the first half and should have scored more than two, but we didn't, and then some of our players got nervous when Wasl scored in the second half.

"I lost my voice out there, but the important thing is we didn't lose the game."

Farias said: "It was a game of two halves. Wahda controlled the first half and scored two goals; we controlled the second half and scored one."

Wasl also went out of the Etisalat Cup at the semi-final stage, to Al Ain, and the most significant achievement within reach of the Dubai side is a top-three finish in the league and a potential berth in the 2012 Asian Champions League.