Al Ain are double-winners, history-makers, UAE champions and holders of the President’s Cup, too.
Days after their title coronation, less than two weeks following confirmation of a first league trophy in three years and 13th in all, they had hands clasped around the country’s most coveted cup. They were deserved victors at Zayed Sports City Stadium, dominant not just there but throughout the entire domestic season.
It was fitting that a seventh President’s Cup came against their one-time great rivals. On Thursday, Al Ain outlasted Al Wasl, scoring at the beginning of each half to push the clash out of reach. They should have had a few more. They even concluded the match with 10 men. In injury-time, they conceded a goal to fray the nerves, to make them question their quest.
Yet in the end it did not matter.
Al Ain won 2-1, Ismail Ahmed opening the scoring then later sent off, Marcus Berg grabbing the other to burnish an already incredible debut season. Caio’s late, late strike for Wasl proved redundant.
The Garden City side, the UAE’s most decorated club, had taken another trinket, underlining not only their talent, but their tenacity as well. In the club’s 50th year, they have plenty of reason for golden jubilation. For the first time in that half-century, the league and President’s Cup was theirs in the very same season.
“Congratulations for my team for a great victory, a great season,” said Zoran Mamic, Al Ain’s manager and mastermind of their latest success. “I think we deserve to win the second trophy also. We didn’t play so good, like in some of the last few games, but who cares? A victory is a victory. I’m very, very proud of my team.
“Now I have a problem, because the season is not finished, we have two more games. I have to find a way to push the players, to be serious after winning two trophies, to concentrate on the Asian Champions League.
"But I’m sure with character and with positive mood we’ll also do this competition. As I said, I’m very, very happy. Again, very proud of my team and the whole club. I’d like to thank our fans too, because they give us great support all season and they deserve also this trophy."
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Within three minutes, those fans went wild with celebration. Before anyone had caught breath, Ahmed met Omar Abdulrahman’s corner at the Wasl back post and swiped a sweet half-volley past Yousef Al Zaabi in the opposition goal. It was a marksman’s finish from a defender’s right boot.
Hussein El Shahat could have then doubled Al Ain’s advantage, but his finish was untypically tame. At the other end, Fabio De Lima thudded the crossbar with a long-range free-kick. Deep into first-half injury-time, Berg could not find a way past Al Zaabi when clean through.
He atoned minutes after half time. Collecting a pass from Abdulrahman, the Swede slotted home the ball, lifting his tally to 36 goals in 35 appearances since joining last summer. From there, Al Ain should have added to the scoreline.
There was still time for Ahmed to see red, though, the Al Ain centre-back deservedly booked for a second time following a rash challenge. Then, as the clock ticked past 90 minutes, Caio sent a close-range shot past Khalid Essa in the Al Ain goal. For a moment, Mamic’s side looked uncertain. But they saw it out. The league champions had become double-winners, history-makers in their 50th year.