x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Asian Champions League: Asamoah Gyan must step up for Al Ain on big stage

Al Ain's goal hero may reign domestically, but the continental competition will provide the true measure of Asamoah Gyan's abilities, comments John McAuley.

Asamoah Gyan, right, needs to step up for Al Ain on a bigger stage than the Pro League.
Asamoah Gyan, right, needs to step up for Al Ain on a bigger stage than the Pro League.

A hat-trick to seal an 11th top-flight title for Al Ain, via two thumping headers and a coolly dispatched half volley. Twenty-eight goals in 20 Pro League matches. A second Golden Boot, soon to find residence beside consecutive league trophies.

Asamoah Gyan is Al Ain's spearhead, the exclamation mark to their beautifully unconfined prose.

Yet with the clinching of another championship comes a fresh challenge; the Ghanaian conceded as much in the aftermath of scoring all three goals in Thursday's 3-0 victory over Dubai.

"Now one is done, the main thing is to go on with the [Asian] Champions League," Gyan said. "Everyone's focus is on the Champions League now."

Al Ain would welcome the extra impetus.

Second in Group D they may be, but the pool is so delicately balanced that Tuesday night's engagement with Al Hilal in Riyadh can rightfully be deemed make-or-break.

Avoiding defeat is paramount. Perhaps more than ever, Gyan needs to produce goals.

"Now we concentrate on our next game in the Champions League and we're going there to make sure we qualify from the group stage," he said last week. "A positive result can determine whether we stay in the Champions League or not."

However, in Asian club football's elite competition, his words speak louder than his actions. His success in the Pro League has yielded an almost unfathomable 50 goals in 37 matches, but continental contribution has yet to match that domestic form.

Admittedly, an injury sustained on international duty deprived Gyan of substantial Champions League exposure; he missed the past two matches. And, yes, he required only nine minutes to notch a goal as a substitute in the opening victory, against Hilal.

On reputation alone, though, he is expected to excel. This is a player of English Premier League pedigree, who arrived at Sunderland having sparkled for his national team at the 2010 World Cup; the Black Stars' shiniest soul.

The winner against Serbia and the equaliser against Australia in the group stages, an extra-time strike to vanquish the United States and seal a quarter-final berth, a successful conversion in the shoot-out defeat to Uruguay (despite missing a last-minute penalty that would have sent Ghana into the last four): Gyan has a big-game strut.

Yet the trademark swagger hasn't translated. A goal every 66.6 minutes has illuminated his Pro League career; in Asia, the number reads one in 102 minutes of action.

Granted, a larger statistical sample is needed. Maybe with Gyan in the side, this month's potentially significant defeat to Al Rayyan in Qatar would not have materialised. Maybe Al Ain would be all but through to the knockout stages.

But the business of qualification deals in hard facts, and Gyan has a point to prove. As unstoppable as he is within the confines of UAE football, there lingers the suspicion he offers goals and not much else. Of course, that should constitute more than enough - after all, it is why he collects a reported €3 million (Dh14.4m) per year. But remove that from his game and what do you have?

Three goals against the country's fifth-worst Pro League side warrants celebration, but producing a winner this evening at the King Fahd International Stadium would loom even larger.

Gyan no doubt realises this; that the true test of his abilities lays in this elevated tournament.

"I think I've proved myself and I've proved to my fans what I'm capable of," said the striker amid last week's domestic jamboree, when really Asia represents the ultimate endorsement of his talent.




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