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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 September 2018

Al Ain face uphill task to reach Asian Champions League quarter-finals

A 4-2 defeat to Al Duhail in the first leg of the last-16 means the Garden City club have their work cut out

Al Ain midfielder Omar Abdulrahman in action against Al Duhail in the Asian Champions League. Mohammad Badreddine Alroeya / Al Ain FC
Al Ain midfielder Omar Abdulrahman in action against Al Duhail in the Asian Champions League. Mohammad Badreddine Alroeya / Al Ain FC

Al Ain’s Asian Champions League hopes suffered a major blow on Tuesday night after they were defeated 4-2 at home by Al Duhail in the first leg of their last-16 clash.

The UAE champions, who came into the match on the back of Thursday’s victory in the President’s Cup final, were beaten at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium by goals from Youssef El Arabi, Nam Tae-hee, Ismail Mohammed and Almoez Ali. Substitutes Ahmed Khalil and Ibrahim grabbed two back for the hosts.

The reverse brought to an end Al Ain’s nine-game winning streak, while it ensured Duhail’s 100 per cent record in this year’s competition remained intact. The Qatar side have won all seven of their matches thus far in a run of 18 straight victories in all competitions. The return leg takes place in Doha next Tuesday.

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Al Ain, Asian champions in 2003 and runners-up two years ago, will need to begin that match better should they wish to advance to the quarter-finals. Missing both Hussein El Shahat and Mohanad Salem, the Garden City club were slow out of the blocks and conceded on 16 minutes.

Duhail striker El Arabi was afforded too much space in the penalty area and, although his initial header was saved well by goalkeeper Khalid Essa, he eventually scrambled the ball into the net.

Al Ain did begin to gain a foothold in the match, but were breached again either side of half time. On 39 minutes, South Korean Nam raced free following a home free-kick, collecting the ball inside his own half and outpacing both Ahmed Barman and Mohammed Abdulrahman to finish past Essa.

Duhail were 3-0 up three minutes into the second half. Capitalising on a mistake from Ismail Ahmed, El Arabi teed up Mohammed to lift the ball over the onrushing Essa.

It did not take long for Al Ain’s night to get worse. In the 55th minute, Nam played in Ali, who slotted home. Soon after, Omar Abdulrahman was perhaps fortunate to only be booked after he grabbed Duhail’s Luiz Junior by the face.

However, Al Ain were given a lifeline 22 minutes from time. Omar Abdulrahman had an effort cleared off the line and, as the ball found its way back to him, the UAE playmaker crossed for Khalil to head past Amine Lecomte in the visiting goal. Ten minutes later, Rayan Yaslam should have scored a second for Al Ain, but did not connect properly when free inside the Duhail penalty area.

Yet Zoran Mamic’s men were handed a way back into the tie four minutes from the end when Diaky scored with his very first touch. Then, in injury-time, Caio was given a straight red for kicking out at an opponent.

Still the only UAE club to win the Champions League, Al Ain will have their work cut out to progress to the quarter-finals. The match in Doha next week represents their final fixture of a largely successful season in which they secured the Arabian Gulf League title for the first time in three years and also clinched the President’s Cup crown. It marked the first time in the club’s history that they completed that double in the same campaign.

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