Recently-crowned Arabian Gulf League champions, Al Ain are one win away from the domestic double
Al Ain hit Shabab Al Ahli Dubai for six to reach the President's Cup final
A few days after confirming their place as UAE champions, Al Ain moved within one match of another title.
The 2017/18 Arabian Gulf League winners - they receive the trophy following the campaign’s final fixture this Sunday - remain on course for the double, proving too good for Shabab Al Ahli Dubai in the President’s Cup semi-final in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday.
Their old rivals now sporting a relatively new guise, Shabab Al Ahli Dubai had hoped to pounce upon any lingering effects from Al Ain’s title-winning celebrations last weekend. Yet they could not lay a glove. They lost 6-0.
Al Ain scored after five minutes at the Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium. Five minutes later, they had doubled their advantage, their place in next month’s final almost assured before they had even broken a sweat.
Caio got the first. Hussein El Shahat had played in Marcus Berg, but the in-form striker was foiled by goalkeeper Majed Naser before swivelling and squaring to his unmarked Brazilian teammate. Caio coolly slotted the ball past two Shabab Al Ahli Dubai defenders seeking to block his route.
Al Ain’s path to the showpiece was practically unchecked once El Shahat added the second. The Egyptian met Omar Abdulrahman’s beautifully lofted pass a fraction of a second before the onrushing Naser and headed into the empty net. Originally disallowed for offside, a quick deliberation with the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) confirmed the goal should stand. Al Ain were two up, and cruising into the final.
Shabab Al Ahli Dubai did have chances, though. Makhete Diop, usually so clinical, misdirected a free header off-target from inside the six-yard box, then dragged wide a shot following Mohanad Salem’s mistake. Ten minutes into the second half, he arched a fine free-kick towards the top corner of the Al Ain goal, only for goalkeeper Khalid Essa to acrobatically tip over.
At the other end, Abdulrahman curled his own set-piece inches above the Shabab Al Ahli Dubai crossbar. By that stage, tempers were frayed and yellow cards brandished.
Not long after the hour, the latest indiscretion effectively ended Shabab Al Ahli Dubai’s chances. VAR deemed Hassan Ibrahim had caught Berg with a flailing arm, gifting Al Ain a penalty. Berg duly converted, taking his tally in his debut season to 31 goals in 33 matches.
On 74 minutes, Al Ain had four. This time, Berg turned provider, rolling the ball across the opposition penalty area for Caio to swish past Naser. So Al Ain’s fourth felt exactly like their first. Their fifth would have wounded that little bit more, given substitute Ahmed Khalil scored it. A former fan favourite at Al Ahli, he won and scored an 85th-minute penalty against his previous employers. In injury-time, Bandar Al Ahbabi added another.
Al Ain had six, the UAE's freshly crowned champions sailing home and to within one match of another title. Al Wahda or Al Wasl await. Judging by their recent rude health, though, Al Ain look destined for the double.