Carlos Eduardo's hat-trick secured the UAE club's fate at the King Fahd International Stadium
Al Ain dumped out of Asian Champions League by Al Hilal after another ruinous night in Riyadh
Al Hilal 3-0 Al Ain (Hilal win 3-0 on aggregate)
Hilal: Eduardo 42’, 45’, 74’
Once again, Al Ain’s Asian Champions League bid came unstuck at Al Hilal, the UAE club again undone by a quick-fire flurry to exit the competition.
In 2014, three goals in nine minutes at the King Fahd International Stadium had swung the semi-final first leg in Hilal’s favour, ultimately pushing the tie beyond Al Ain. Three years on and at the same venue, a four-minute spell just before half time did likewise.
Until that point, Al Ain had been more than holding their own in the quarter-final second leg in Riyadh. Then, suddenly, they conceded twice. Carlos Eduardo struck both, seizing the lead for Hilal on the night and on aggregate, too.
Two goals to the good, the Saudi Arabians were heading for another last-four berth. Runners-up last year, Al Ain's were heading home. To rub salt in the wounds, Eduardo later completed his hat-trick. Just like 2014, Hilal had a 3-0 victory against their great Gulf rivals in the continent's greatest club competition.
In reality, the damage was done at the end of the first half. Eduardo’s first arrived on 42 minutes, when the Brazilian got to Nicolas Milesi’s in-swinging free kick before Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa and put the hosts in front. Replays showed Eduardo was inches offside. Yet, much to Al Ain’s dismay, their appeals were waved away.
Four minutes later, Hilal scored again. This time, Eduardo beat the offside trap following a quick free kick, then controlled a lofted pass and expertly dispatched his finish high past Essa. Al Ain were reeling, the King Fahd International Stadium rocking.
To their credit, the visitors sought a way back into the tie. Six minutes into the second half, summer signing Marcus Berg, had a genuine claim for a foul as he bore down on the Hilal goal and tried to break free from Abdullah Al Zori. The infringement began outside the penalty area and continued inside until Berg tumbled. Fortunately for Hilal, the referee saw no foul.
At the other end, Omar Khribin sent Essa diving through the air to repel his shot from distance. On 72 minutes, Al Zori miscued widely with only the Al Ain goalkeeper to beat.
Moments later, Eduardo had his third. Again, he sprung Al Ain’s offside trap, racing away from the defence to slot coolly past Essa. The home fans erupted. Hilal’s progression was secure.
For Al Ain, mistakes and maybe a little misfortune had taken their toll. Leading light Omar Abdulrahman, Asia's current player of the year, was well below his best and striker Berg struggled to find his feet in only his second competitive appearance. Caio and Douglas, the Brazilian duo who completed the side’s attack, were ineffective. On the whole, so too were Al Ain.
Asian champions in 2003, they might not have another chance for a repeat until 2019. Just like three years ago, another ruinous night in Riyadh had wrecked their hopes.