Manager concedes Al Duhail were 'better than us' in last-16 tie of continental football championship
Zoran Mamic says Al Ain's Asian Champions League exit down to mistakes – not key player absences
Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic was left to rue mistakes across both legs against Al Duhail as his side exited the Asian Champions League on Tuesday.
The UAE champions, seeking a place in the quarter-finals for the third successive year, were beaten 4-1 in the second leg in Qatar to lose the last-16 tie 8-3 on aggregate.
Al Ain’s chances of progression were always slim following last week’s 4-2 defeat at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. They received another blow heading into the return match, when star striker Marcus Berg was ruled out through illness, joining teammate Caio in not being available for selection. The Brazilian winger was suspended having been sent off in the first leg.
Still, Al Ain's fate was sealed early at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium. The visitors were 2-0 down on the night after 30 minutes, courtesy of an own goal from Mohammed Ahmed and a Youssef El Arabi tap-in. Duhail, boasting a 100 per cent record in this year's competition, added two more in the second half before Omar Abdulrahman converted a penalty in injury-time.
So Al Ain, Champions League winners in 2003 and runners-up two years ago, concluded their 2017/18 campaign with a costly defeat.
"If we analyse the matches, we can see that we made mistakes in both the games," Mamic said. "You need to be a top team to be able to exploit these mistakes and Al Duhail did that.
"They deserved to reach the quarter-final. They played very good football, playing simple and not complicating things, with one-two touches and a lot of speed. They have such players in the team and they used that very well. This is the formula to be successful."
Berg’s absence was particularly damaging. In his debut season at Al Ain, the Swede had found the net seven times in the Champions League until that point, contributing to his tally of 36 goals in 36 appearances since joining last summer from Greek side Panathinaikos. In his place, Ahmed Khalil struggled to have any real impact.
Yet Mamic refused to put the defeat down to key omissions.
“We missed two important players – Caio and Berg,” he said. “We didn’t have replacements who could be of that quality. But that’s not the reason we lost the game. I have to repeat that Al Duhail were better than us.”
Understandably, Mamic had gone into the match declaring faith in his side’s ability to turn around the tie. Al Ain had been dominant domestically this season, winning both the Arabian Gulf League and the President’s Cup - the first time in their history they had captured both trophies in the same campaign.
Asked about his pre-match comments, Mamic said: “I talked about the hope to achieve a strong result because hope is always there and we had the chance to do something. But in football hopes are not enough.
"Duhail were simply better than us and they deserve the result.”