x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

President's Cup: In the heat of the moment, Al Ahli prevail over Al Ain

Two first-half goals from Grafite and Basheer Saeed enough to propel Al Alhi past Al Ain in a volatile President's Cup semi-final, writes Amith Passela.

Al Ahli’s Basheer Saeed, left, scored to put his team up by two goals in the first half on Sunday night. Satish Kumar / The National
Al Ahli’s Basheer Saeed, left, scored to put his team up by two goals in the first half on Sunday night. Satish Kumar / The National

Al Ain 1 Al Ahli 2

Al Ain Brosque 84’
Al Ahli Grafite 16’, Saeed 36’

Red cards Mohammed Ahmed (Al Ain), Omar Abdulrahman (Al Ain)

Man of the match Luis Jimenez (Al Ahli)

ABU DHABI // Quique Sanchez Flores was full of praise for his players after Al Ahli booked their place in the President's Cup final with a 2-1 triumph over Al Ain, who finished the game with nine men and with coach Cosmin Olaroiu having to be restrained by security.

Olaroiu was seething after Omar Abdulrahman was shown a straight red card for dissent against referee Ammar Al Junaibi, just seconds after being shown a yellow card for the same infringement against the referee's assistant over an offside decision that saw Asamoah Gyan's equaliser chalked off.

The Romanian coach made his way onto the pitch at the end of full time to argue with the officials, who were surrounded by police, and had to be pulled away by security.

Mohammed Ahmed, the Al Ain defender, had been sent off earlier in the second half for a second yellow card.

"This was the match that we imagined before the game, very strong with both teams trying to win from the first moment," Sanchez Flores said.

"We waited for this kind of match and finally we reach our target and Ahli are in the final. I think we played very well in the first half, but in the second half we suffered a bit, maybe because we played with one player more and we should keep the ball.

"But for me, I think it's enough. We scored twice and played very strong and we won a difficult match against a strong, strong team, one of the best teams in Asia."

The result underlined Ahli's superiority over the Garden City Club this season as they extended their record to two wins a draw.

Grafite, the Brazilian forward, opened the scoring and Baheer Saeed added the second before Alex Brosque closed the gap to keep the fans on the edge of their seats at the Al Nahyan Stadium in the capital.

Ahli were brilliant for three-quarters of the game. They scored from two set pieces and did not allow Al Ain any space to manoeuvre with a well-organised midfield and defence.

They broke the deadlock after a cagey first 15 minute. Grafite rose above the Al Ain defence to guide a header from a Luis Jimenez corner kick.

Saeed doubled the lead with a 30-yard free kick that beat the wall and Dawoud Sulaiman, the Al Ain goalkeeper, to build a solid platform before the break.

Brosque's goal six minutes from time gave Pro League champions Al Ain a glimmer of hope of keeping their league and cup double dreams alive. Gyan thought he had levelled matters in extra time, but the goal was ruled offside, though television replays suggested the Ghanaian forward was level with the last defender.

"For me, the defensive line was perfect in the first half," Sanchez Flores said. "We kept high the line and kept the strikers far away from our goal.

"I like to defend high up the pitch, I don't like to defend deep, but in the second half it was very difficult, because Ahli tried to push too much. Good first half, excellent first half, but crazy second half was not under our control.

"For us, the match was a big match and if you want to reach the final you must play this type of game."

apassela@thenational.ae

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