In the most significant club match he has played in this decade, goalkeeper Majed Naser was shown a red card in the 10th minute.
It was June 2012, and Diego Maradona’s Al Wasl were seeking a trophy in the second leg of the GCC Club Championship, at the Zabeel Stadium. Wasl carried a 3-1 lead from the away match at Al Muharraq of Bahrain, and the Dubai club had fireworks set up to celebrate their certain victory.
Wasl leaked a goal. Naser saw red, first in throwing himself at a Muharraq player, then butting another. He was sent off and Wasl played the final 80 minutes with 10 men, losing in a shoot-out. Naser was suspended for six months and disappeared from the national team for two-and-a-half years.
Now 30, Naser this season received a six-month ban by the FA for spitting at a referee after an Arabian Gulf League match, only for the FA appeals committee to overturn the ban a week later. Three years ago, he slapped an opposing coach and was handed a 17-match ban. Last season, he ruptured his Achilles tendon while doing celebratory back flips.
And that is the man Mahdi Ali has chosen as his final line of defence at the Asian Cup, beginning on January 11.
It is a bold move, made even bolder by the likelihood Naser will be handed the captain’s armband.
Technically, he ranks among the country’s finest goalkeepers during the past decade. His athleticism and keen reading of the game have bewitched several UAE coaches.
He was Bruno Metsu’s man in the nets at the 2007 Gulf Cup of Nations when the UAE won its first significant championship. Another European coach, Srecko Katanec, had no doubts Naser should be the keeper at the 2011 Asian Cup. The Emirati was seconds from two clean sheets when an own goal led to defeat.
But the feeling persists, at least among those who know his history, that he is a volcano waiting to erupt. He had discipline issues at the 2007 Asian Cup.
He picked up cautions in consecutive defeats and was banned for the final match, a UAE victory.
Mahdi Ali is known for extracting fine performances from players struggling or out of favour with their clubs. Naser will be his biggest test yet.
He could be the shot-stopping genius who makes possible the UAE target of a semi-final run.
Or he could lose control and embarrass himself, his coach and his country – perhaps for the last time.
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