By Isidore Lewis
The first match of the FIFA Club World Cup ended in victory for hosts Al-Wahda as the Abu Dhabi side cruised to a 3 0 win over Hekari United of Papua New Guinea in front of their home crowd at Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday evening.
It was an important victory for Al-Wahda, who were under pressure following a disappointing performance in 2009 from last year’s host and UAE neighbours, Al-Ahli.
Indeed, it was Hekari who made the more positive start to the game, creating the first real chance when, after 5 mins, Kema Jack headed a deep far-post cross down and wide of the post.
As expected would be the case, Hekari used their strength, pace and high fitness levels to exert early pressure upon Al-Wahda, pressing and closing down Al-Wahda in possession as much as possible.
However, this left them somewhat vulnerable on the break and, with only ten minutes gone, Brazilian forward Fernando Baiano was gifted two chances in two minutes, both of which were well saved by Hekari goalkeeper Simione Tamanisau.
As the first half went on, Al-Wahda continued to look dangerous on the break as defender Magrao narrowly headed over the bar from a corner and, minutes later, Ismail Matar failed to capitalise on a good chance having broken free on the left, pulling his shot low and just wide in the process.
However, with five minutes to go before half-time, Al-Wahda took the lead. The Brazilian, Hugo – whose pace and power on the left side of midfield had looked to be causing problems for Hekari – drilled home from the edge of the penalty area after a deep cross from the right was headed back towards him.
On the stroke of half-time, Al-Wahda added another, Fernando Baiano finishing off a neat pass from Fahad Masood with a low right-footed drive to the near post, exposing Hekari’s high defensive line and effectively putting the game beyond the reach of Hekari.
With the Papua New Guinea side now somewhat dejected, the second half never really got going. Al-Wahda continued to dominate and the hosts nearly made it three when Ismail broke on the right but the outstretched Baiano could not get a toe on his shot-cross.
The impressive Hugo was also unable to find a third following a break from the left on 67 minutes. His drilled cross was palmed back into the penalty area by the Hekari goalkeeper, before eventually being cleared from danger.
However, Abdulrahim Jumaa eventually did make it 3 0 with an easy header after Hekari failed to deal with another one of Hugo’s crosses. It was an unfortunate goal to concede as the goalkeeper Tamanisau came for the ball, colliding with his defender in the process and knocking the ball on to the unmarked Jumaa.
Al-Wahda will now meet Asian Champions League winner Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma in Saturday’s quarter-final.