Federico Cartabia appears to have perfected the art of converting penalties and the Argentine was at his sublime best from the spot twice as Shabab Al Ahli Dubai defended their UAE President’s Cup title, edging Al Nasr 2-1 in the final at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
Cartabia converted either side of the break, first in the 42nd minute and then deep in second-half injury time after Mehdi Abeid levelled for Al Nasr.
Al Nasr had beaten Sharjah 3-0 to book their spot in the final, while Shabab Al Ahli had edged Bani Yas 1-0. The Reds were favourites to top their Dubai city rivals yet again, having beaten them three times already this season, including in last month’s Arabian Gulf Cup final, which was settled 5-4 on penalties after regulation period finished goalless. Shabab Al Ahli’s latest victory over Al Nasr had come in the last round of the Arabian Gulf League on May 11, with that 3-2 success further rewarding Mahdi Ali’s men with a spot in the qualifying tournament to enter next season’s AFC Champions League.
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Revenge was certainly on the Al Nasr minds. Ramon Diaz’s side needed something that resembled the bragging rights going into the long summer break.
And against that backdrop, and with the stands 30 per cent occupied by fans who were allowed back for the first time, Shabab Al Ahli took the game to their rivals straight from kick-off. Wingback Yousef Jaber sneaked into the box from the left in the opening minute and cut it back only for Al Nasr goalkeeper Ahmed Mohammad Shambieh to cleverly thwart the ball to safety.
Precious little happened after that as the tie descended into a series of midfield battles through which Al Nasr grew in confidence. And Diaz’s Blue Brigade came close for the first time in the 25th with Diaa Sabi’a taking possession of a through ball along the right touchline and dribbling his way into the box, releasing Sebastian Tagliabue, whose weak shot bounced off a Shabab Al Ahli shirt and in the path of Sabi’a, who unleashed a venomous left-footed shot that was aimed straight at goalkeeper Majed Naser.
Four minutes later, Tagliabue’s glancing header off a corner floated over just the bar as Al Nasr continued to apply pressure. The Argentine-born and now naturalised Emirati striker was guilty of letting another chance go begging in the 32nd when he shot weakly along the ground and straight at Naser after Shabab Al Ahli gave away possession.
Five minutes from the break, controversy struck as referee Ammar Al Jneibi pointed at the spot after a VAR referral for a foul on Carlos Eduardo at the top box. Eduardo, with his back to the Al Nasr goal, was adjudicated to have been impeded. It seemed a soft infringement — and harmless at that — but it allowed Federico Cartabia to step up and deliver a textbook-perfect left footed shot into the side netting which Shambieh had absolutely no chance of even sniffing.
At the other end, Al Nasr’s players remonstrated as they appealed for a penalty for alleged ball-handling in the box, but their request was denied. Igor Jesus could have made it 2-0 for Shabab Al Ahli deep in injury-time, but for his weak header from six yards out from Jaber’s looping cross.
One of the stand out players for Shabab Al Ahli, Jaber could have scored from six yards 10 minutes into the second period, but his shot bounced off an Al Nasr shirt and was cleared.
Shambieh produced a spectacular save diving high to his right in the 64th to deny Eduardo’s long-range effort and latter’s strike in the 70th didn’t count as he was flagged for offside receiving a ball from a free-kick.
Al Nasr found the equaliser they needed in the 78th from a corner that saw captain Mehdi Abeid poking in from close range. The goal was referred to VAR for a possible handball from Abeid, but in the end the goal stood.
More drama followed just before the final whistle as Eduardo was once again felled in the box, the VAR referral yielding a penalty that allowed Cartabia to win the match for Shabab Al Ahli.