Shabab Al Ahli edge Al Nasr to win record 10th President's Cup
Empowered by a fully vaccinated twelfth man — the fans — inside a stadium in more than a year, Shabab Al Ahli clinched their record 10th UAE President’s Cup trophy by defeating Al Nasr 2-1 in a dramatic final held at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain on Sunday.
In a tightly fought Dubai derby, Argentinian striker Federico Cartabia converted his spot kicks, one of them in the dying minutes of the match, to take the title back to the Rashid Stadium.
The first tournament final since the start of the pandemic served awe-inspiring sights to behold for the vaccinated fans in attendance as the iconic stadium celebrated the UAE’s recent achievements. Hundreds of drones light up skies with giant images of the UAE leadership, Covid-19 vaccine injection, Emirates Mars Mission rocket, ‘50’ to mark the UAE’s golden jubilee year and dazzling fireworks. And before the match, there was live singing of the UAE national anthem, followed by cheers and sloganeering from fans in the stadium.
And it was an electrifying start to the encounter as inside the first minute, Yousif Jaber made first attempt into the Al Nasr goal. In a high tempo encounter, Shabab Al Ahli dominated the proceedings. The ‘Red Knights’ Cartabia raided and tested the Al Nasr defence and kept keeper Ahmed Shambih busy.
At the other end, Al Nasr striker Sebastian Tagliabue came close with a header and a volley inside the Al Ahli box. Experienced keeper Majed Naser was able to thwart all the Al Nasr posers. Both the keepers had enjoyed a perfect tournament thus far without conceding a goal. And amid flurry of attacks and counters, the opening goal came from an unexpected penalty.
The referee, after an on-field review, detected a foul inside the box by Al Nasr’s Yaqoub Hassan on Walid Abbas while tackling a high ball. Amid massive protest from Al Nasr, Cartabia converted from the spot as he deposited the ball into the right corner of the net beyond the reach of a full-stretched Shambih.
After the break, Al Nasr pushed forward in search of an equaliser. However, Tagliabue and company were always stopped in his tracks by resolute Shabab Al Ahli defenders. Al Nasr, too, mostly parked a bus of defenders in the box to bottle down any attempts by the opponents. Brazilian Carlos Eduardo even tried a long-ranger shot but a flying Shambih parried away the attempt.
Al Nasr kept the pressure and were finally rewarded as Mehdi Abeid was able to slide the ball, from a corner, past Shabab Al Ahli’s defence. The referee opted for a VAR review and confirmed a clean goal for Al Nasr.
With some 10 minutes to go, it was an all-out attack. Shabab Al Ahli had a golden opportunity to pull off a winner but missed out on an open opportunity. However, the referee again went for an on-field review and was convinced that Mohamed Ali Ayed had brought down Eduardo. Another penalty was awarded. And in a dramatic end to the match, Cartabia scored again in a similar fashion, drilling the delivery to the right pocket of the net.
Al Nasr players and fans were devastated by the controversial decision, but Shabab Al Ahli snared a last-gasp win.
This also happened to be their fourth victory this season across all tournaments over Al Nasr. And the fans celebrated in Al Ain and Dubai as the team completed a treble with the Arabian Gulf Cup and the Arabian Gulf Super Cup trophies.
Shabab Al Ahli (2): Federico Cartabia (44, 90+)
Al Nasr (1): Mehdi Abeid (78)