If you could bottle up a game of football, one that captured all the magic, skill and drama the game entails, what game would you choose?
Football produces countless moments each and every year that remind us just how beautiful the game really is. Some are more special than others.
The “Agueroooooooo” moment for Manchester City in 2012 is one that immediately comes to mind. If you’re South Korean, or perhaps just love a plucky underdog story, Ahn Jung-hwan’s golden goal against Italy in 2002 will be another.
If you’re the UAE Football Association, then this week’s dramatic President’s Cup semifinal second leg between Sharjah and Al-Wasl is one they would wish they could bottle up and sprinkle right across the domestic game.
It was intoxicating and showcased the very best Emirati football has to offer — high octane action, a dramatic comeback and some simply spectacular goals, none better than Caio’s audacious bicycle kick equalizer in the 90th minute.
And best of all, it was played against a backdrop of packed grandstands that provided a raucous and joyous atmosphere, one that reminded those watching just how good UAE football can be.
The match was everything that UAE football could and should be — local teams with mostly local players playing in front of passionate fans. It’s what makes live sport an unrivaled form of entertainment.
Unfortunately, as entertaining as Emirati football can often be, too often the spectacle on the pitch isn’t matched by that in the stands, with empty grandstands more often than not a spoiling backdrop to the entertaining action being played in front of it. Football is at its best when the grandstands are packed. The players feed off the energy the crowd provides. It fuels them to push just that little bit harder, to give that last bit of energy.
You could make a case that the dramatic scenes at the Sharjah Football Stadium wouldn’t have happened without the fans providing the energy from the stands. They are called the 12th Man for a reason.
Everyone who walked away from the Sharjah Stadium — euphoric or despondent depending on whether they were dressed in yellow or white — will have known they had witnessed an instant classic.
After a stalemate in the first leg, and again in the first 45 minutes of this week’s second leg, Al-Wasl scored twice in five minutes early in the second half to break the game wide open and looked to be headed for their first President’s Cup final since the 2017/18 season.
But spurred on by a passionate home crowd and guided by experienced Romanian coach Cosmin Olariou, Sharjah weren’t done yet.
A beautiful curling effort from Ousmane Camara from the edge of the area with just under 15 minutes to play put them back into the contest, but it was the Caio Lucas Show that won it for the home side.
Having missed a penalty in the first half, the Brazilian more than made amends in the second, single-handedly winning the game for the 2018/19 UAE Pro League champions.
His first goal, an equalizer in the 90th minute, was simply breathtaking — a stunning, vicious bicycle kick that nestled into the bottom corner. While it wasn’t the winning goal, it was a goal worthy of winning any contest. From the moment it hit the back of the net, there was only going to be one winner.
Having scored arguably the goal of the year, you could perhaps forgive Caio for basking in the glory and taking it easy as extra time approached. But that’s not in the makeup of the 27-year-old former Benfica winger.
No less than three minutes later, he found the back of the net again, this time getting the better of Salem Al-Azizi to head the ball past a helpless Ibrahim Essa to seal a historic victory, one that will live long in the memory of every Sharjah fan.
Having secured his side’s passage to the President’s Cup final for the first time since 2005/06, the Brazilian was in a grateful mood afterward, as he reflected on social media:
“What a special day. In my life, I’ve always learned that we have to embrace our mistakes and grow from them. Persist, keep believing, for God always has something prepared for you. I am blessed to do what I love and love what I do.”