Zeljko Petrovic must be glad he is not starting his Al Shaab reign under the glare of a derby game. The Serb, instead, will watch from the stands as the players, club officials and fans let loose their emotions as the two Sharjah clubs clash in the top division for the first time in more than four years.
Petrovic will take over the reins of the team from the start of the second half of the Arabian Gulf League; Jamsheer Muratocalo will continue in his capacity as interim coach for Thursday night’s potentially nerve-racking game against Sharjah and the following game at Al Wahda.
It seems to be a wise decision by the Shaab management, for a derby is never really good initiation for a new manager, especially for someone who is venturing into this part of the world for the first time. An experienced hand like Muratocalo, who is also a member of the club’s new technical committee, would do a lot better job of soaking up the pressure in the dugout.
And then, Muratocalo has also done a good job of rallying the team since the club dumped Marius Sumudica, and the win over Dubai in the last game has helped boost the morale of the players and fans.
Shaab were a goal down with eight minutes left on the clock, but goals from Michael N’dri and Thiago Quirino helped the team to win only their second match of the AGL campaign.
Shaab officials have requested that Sharjah allot half of the seats for their fans, and the players have decided to spent their own money to gift tickets to their fans.
“This decision of the players reflects the positive spirit in the team,” said Dr Sarhan Al Mayani, head of Shaab’s technical committee. “It is also a way of thanking the fans for standing together with the team through the dark times.
“I hope Sharjah will accept our request for 50 per cent of the tickets because our fans really want to see this derby game. They have waited a long time for this match.”
The last time Shaab and Sharjah met in the league match, it was the penultimate round of the 2008/09 season. Shaab were the winners that night thanks to Abdullah Eissa’s sixth-minute strike, but the three points could not save the team from relegation.
The two Sharjah rivals met in the relegation play-offs in September last year, and this time Sharjah were the winners, thanks to Marcelinho’s 94th-minute winner. That win, however, did not matter much as Sharjah failed to displace Shaab in the top division.
After spending a season in Division One, though, Sharjah are looking a different side. With Paulo Bonamigo guiding them, they are playing like the “Kings” of old and are level on 19 points with Al Nasr and Al Jazira, behind the top two, Al Ahli and Al Shabab.
Sharjah seem calm and confident.
“We are preparing for this game like we have done for our earlier matches,” said Ali Mohammed, Sharjah team’s administrative manager. “There is no extra pressure on the players.”
Mohammed also believes the charm of the derby has been diminished through the years because of the presence of a large number of players from outside Sharjah in the two teams.
“This is our first derby match in four years, but it is different now,” he said. “Before, at both Sharjah and Shaab, all the players were home-grown, but now most of the players are from outside.”
That, however, will matter little to the Shaab fans, who will be hoping to see their team take three more points. But that, as Mohammed points out, could be a double-edged sword for the visitors.
“Our players will not be short of motivation, but the Shaab players probably have a stronger motivation,” he said. “They are in desperate need of points to improve their position, which means the pressure will be on them. We will be playing without any pressure.”
That, however, might not be possible. Once the two teams step onto the pitch, in front of packed stands, there might be no escape from the intensity.
And Petrovic will be glad.
Past 10 Sharjah derbies
Al Shaab 1 Sharjah 0
Sharjah 1 Al Shaab 0
Sharjah 4 Al Shaab 1
Al Shaab 0 Sharjah 2
Sharjah 1 Al Shaab 2
Al Shaab 2 Sharjah 1
Al Shaab 5 Sharjah 4
Sharjah 1 Al Shaab 2
Sharjah 3 Al Shaab 0
Al Shaab 1 Sharjah 5
Three of the best meetings
February 5, 2003 Going into the 16th round, Shaab were fighting for the title, level on points with Al Ain (29) and one behind Al Wahda (30). A 2-1 defeat to Sharjah, however, led to a sharp slide in their fortunes. They took only three points from the remaining six matches and finished fifth. Al Ain clinched the title with 48 points.
March 10, 2006 Powered by Ali Samereh's two goals, Shaab raced to a 4-2 lead by half time against their arch-rivals. Sharjah, however, fought back in the second half and Anderson levelled at 4-4 in the 85th minute. The visiting fans were, however, left heartbroken when Samereh struck the winner in injury time.
April 9, 2007 It was 1-1 in the 90th minute, but Samereh stunned the home fans with the winner for Shaab. Emotions boiled over in the final seconds and Sharjah's Salem Saif and Masood Shojaie were given their marching orders.
Follow us on twitter at @SprtNationalUAE