Dubai: Derby games can be noisy, scrappy affairs, fought at a different level of tenacity where there could either be a deluge of goals or an absolute drought.
With local bragging rights at stake, it is often difficult to achieve absolute harmony in terms of an audaciously aggressive approach and the relative bashfulness of a counter-attacking philosophy. Neither can be utterly right or wrong and that’s why when the spoils of the first of the season’s Bur Dubai derbies featuring Al Nasr and Al Wasl were shared in their Arabian Gulf League opener following a goalless draw at the Rashid Al Maktoum Stadium, you could fault neither parties.
Al Wasl would have been the happier of the two, but that’s only because they were the away team and that one point would have seemed like three after a last-gasp deflection that put the ball in the back of the net was ruled as offside following VAR intervention.
It was clearly a game of two halves with Al Wasl dominating the first and Nasr showing equal intent in the second following the introduction of Habib Al Fardan. “He’s been a fantastic player for this club and played well last season,” Caio Zanardi, the Al Nasr coach said afterwards. “He grows in confidence with each game. He came and changed our style and improved our performance.”
Al Fardan was indeed the best man on the field for the home team, orchestrating play with every touch and nearly scoring from a header late on.
But after the first half Al Wasl were left to rue what could have been and their UAE under-21 man Ali Saleh might have kicked himself for not scoring from an absolute peach of an opportunity. Fabio Lima cut in from the right and sent a low cross into the box that reached Saleh, whose shot from eight yards out was straight at Al Nasr’s spread-eagled goalkeeper Ahmed Shambieh, the busier of the two gloveman.
Al Wasl’s Ecuadorean import Fernando Gaibor had already failed to test Shambieh on two occasions from a distance, but he almost sneaked in the opener from a viciously driven corner that was headed clear on the line by Al Nasr midfielder Tariq Ahmed Al Hammadi.
Al Fardan’s arrival injected tangible purpose to the Al Nasr cause, with the playmaker cutting back a fine diagonal pass from the Al Wasl touchline with no one at the other end and then coming close from a header that was blocked by goalkeeper Mohammad Al Bairaq.
Al Fardan was also involved in starting the move that resulted in the ruled out goal in the dying seconds of the game.
“Both teams tried to play. We had a big chance to score and missed and against a team like Al Nasr you don’t get too many chances. Their goal was rightly ruled as off-side because we didn’t deserve to lose this game,” said Al Wasl’s Romanian coach Laurentiu Reghecampf.
Zanardi added: “Wasl controlled the first half and we controlled the second. We wanted to win, but we got a point and now we look to our second game.”
Elsewhere, in Friday’s early games, Al Ain edged past visiting Ittihad Kalba 3-2, while Fujairah beat Al Wahda 1-0 defeat.
A 95th-minute strike from right back Saeed Juma Hassan earned Al Ain full points, after Kalba restored equilibrium twice. In Fujairah, defender Abdallah Saleh Al Jneibi scored the only goal of the game eight minutes from time.
On Thursday, defending champions and recent Arabian Gulf Super Cup winners Sharjah beat promoted Khor Fakkan 2-0 at home and Al Jazira sent Al Dhafra back after gaining a similar result. Last year’s AGL runners-up Shabab Al Ahli Dubai beat promoted Hatta 3-0 on the road, while Ajman left Bani Yas with a point after a 2-2 draw.
Al Jazira coach Jurgen Streppel said: “To start the league with a win is very good. We want to win every game and we still have a lot to improve on.”
The writer is a sports journalist based in Dubai.