x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Al Ahli blank Ajman to punch Asian Champions League ticket

Win the win, the Dubai club secures second place in the table and will make a return to the Asian Champions League next year, writes John McAuley.

Al Ahli’s Abdulaziz Sanqour, right, tackles Founeke Sy of Ajman in Dubai on Saturday night. Al Ahli’s 3-0 win sealed second place in the league table. Al Ittihad
Al Ahli’s Abdulaziz Sanqour, right, tackles Founeke Sy of Ajman in Dubai on Saturday night. Al Ahli’s 3-0 win sealed second place in the league table. Al Ittihad

Al Ahli 3 Ajman 0

Al Ahli Jimenez 25’, 80’, Khalil 65’

Man of the match Luis Jimenez (Al Ahli)

DUBAI // So Al Ahli are there, or so we imagine.

The Dubai club have long harboured ambitions of a return to the Asian Champions League, and with Saturday night's victory against Ajman they seem to have grasped it.

Bizarrely, its confirmation will not be granted until November, when Asian football's governing body determines the UAE's allocation, but in the bowels of Al Wasl's Zabeel Stadium there was excited talk of future enterprise on the continent.

"It is very big for the club, yes," said Quique Sanchez Flores, the Ahli coach, after watching his side claim the points to guarantee a second-place finish in Pro League 2012/13.

"But it's not just important to qualify for the Asian Champions League, but what level of performance you can give once you are there."

While playing in Asia will no doubt inspire his charges, Ahli did well to muster motivation here.

The absence of their supporters, a consequence of the abandoned March match against Al Ain, robbed the arena of an atmosphere.

Of course, Ajman could have conjured one of their own, yet their fans stayed away, too, probably still nursing sore throats from an Etisalat Cup final triumph four days previously.

"It's very difficult when you play without an audience," said Sanchez Flores.

"But the players responded well after a quiet start. We deserved to win."

In fact, the only soundtrack to the evening was the now-trademark Ahli air raid siren - generated from the car park outside - which swirled around the empty ground throughout.

Indeed, it did signal the unleashing of a rocket, although it came not from the skies but the right boot of Luis Jimenez.

The Chilean – formerly of Inter Milan – is known for the spectacular.

Midway through the first half, he added another to his scrapbook, sending a sumptuous half volley past Yousef Abdulla, the Ajman goalkeeper.

Jimenez would add his second on 80 minutes – a curling free kick that evaded everyone to nestle in the net – but by that time the result was safe, courtesy of Ahmed Khalil's neat finish from Grafite's canny layoff.

Given recent exertions, Ajman could be forgiven for not offering much in the way of resistance, especially as the club have long been safe from relegation.

"It's been an exciting season," said Abdulwahab Abdulqadir, the coach. "We had our targets at the beginning and we achieved them. Now we're looking forward to an even better season next year."

Ahli can also cast minds to the fresh campaign, but first they have the President's Cup final om May 28 to contest, and with it the chance to underline what is already a season of considerable success.

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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