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.