Cannavaro inspires Dubai club to victory
Former Italy captain Fabio Cannavaro finally has something to
smile about in Dubai.
The 36-year-old defender, who signed with the Dubai-based Al
Ahli football team in June, helped the club to its first victory in
its home debut, a 4-1 win over cross-town rivals Al Wasl. After
coming under fire for his sluggish play in the club’s 2-0,
season-opening loss last month, he assisted on one goal and played
solid defense in the team’s first win.
”I’m really glad we won tonight. It was a great achievement,”
Cannavaro said through a translator. ”But I can’t do it alone. It
really took the entire team.”
The 36-year-old defender, who led Italy to the 2006 World Cup
title but retired from international duty after the team’s dismal
performance in the 2010 tournament in South Africa, is Al Ahli’s
biggest signing. The club signed Cannavaro to a two-year deal for
an undisclosed price.
He has been tasked with reviving the fortunes of the club which
finished in the bottom half of the pro-league in 2009 after winning
the league title in 2008.
And if Wednesday’s match was any indication, the club appears to
be heading in the right direction. Ahmed Kamis scored in the first
minute to give Al Ahli an early lead and then Cannavaro’s crafty,
back-heel flick found Ahmed Khalil who made it 2-0. Andre Luciano
da Silva then scored the rebound off his missed penalty to make it
3-0 before halftime. Al Wasl pulled one back but Kamis netted his
second after Ahli missed another penalty to make it 4-1.
Despite the victory, the transition to the UAE league has not
been completely free of controversy for Cannavaro.
He opened his campaign in a desert town near the border with
Saudi Arabia in front of only a few thousand fans – a far cry from
his days at Juventus where tens of thousands would be on hand to
cheer him on. He also has struggled to adjust to the balmy
conditions in the United Arab Emirates, where temperatures typical
remain above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) well into the
evening. Matches start at 10 p.m. local time to accommodate players
who are fasting during the holy month of Ramadan.
Expectations are high for Cannavaro, who fans and owners hope
will give the league the same exposure that David Beckham’s move to
the Los Angles Galaxy gave Major League Soccer. It’s also a second
chance for the Italian, who left international football with the
Azzurri in a state of disgrace after the defending champion’s
unexpected first-round exit from the World Cup.
Cannavaro often appeared a step too slow in the World Cup
tournament, and was responsible in part for the two goals Italy
allowed against Paraguay and New Zealand. His disappointing
performance followed on the heels of a final season in Juventus
where he often appeared past his prime.
In his home debut, the fans couldn’t get enough of the
good-looking Italian. Shouts of ”Cannavaro” could be head over
the cheers, drums and snake charmers horns. Most of the fans
interviewed said they liked what they saw and felt he was a good
”Mr. Cannavaro is very nice, very nice,” said Marwan Tahri, an
Al Ahli fan who works for the city transport agency. ”He really
directs the players and has great experience.”
Even fans of the losing side Al Wasl came away impressed,
particularly by the fact he played for Italy and Juventus.
”He’s an international player and will be very valuable for the
league,” said Abdul Salam Fairooz, who runs a sports marketing
firm in Dubai. ”You know, an international brand brings spectators
and will give more international recognition to the league.”
Cannavaro, who played in his fourth World Cup and has a record
136 caps for Italy, has also played for Real Madrid and Inter Milan
during his career. He signed for Al Ahli after Juventus said it
would not exercise an extension on his contract.