x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Zlatko Dalic left delighted by Al Ain’s endeavour to reach knockout round of Asian Champions League

Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain coach, was full of praise for his players after a 1-1 draw against Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia ensured his team finished top of Group C to reach the knockout stage of the Asian Champions League.

Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman, left,  (evades the tackle from Al Ittihad's Ahmad Al Fraidi in their Asian Champions League match on April 22, 2014, at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium at Al Ain in the UAE. The match ended in a draw, giving Al Ain the top spot in Group C, but Al Ittihad also advances to the knockout round as second-place finisher. Marwan Naamani / AFP
Al Ain's Omar Abdulrahman, left, (evades the tackle from Al Ittihad's Ahmad Al Fraidi in their Asian Champions League match on April 22, 2014, at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium at Al Ain in the UAE. The match ended in a draw, giving Al Ain the top spot in Group C, but Al Ittihad also advances to the knockout round as second-place finisher. Marwan Naamani / AFP

AL AIN 1 AL ITTIHAD 1

Al Ain - Sharahili (og) 22’

Al Ittihad - Al Ghamdi (pen) 36’

Man of the Match - Fawaz Al Qarni (Al Ittihad)

AL AIN // Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain coach, was full of praise for his players after a 1-1 draw against Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia ensured his team finished top of Group C, which could potentially set up an Asian Champions League last-16 showdown against Arabian Gulf League rivals Al Jazira.

Mansour Sharahili, the Ittihad defender, headed a corner from Omar Abdulrahman into his own net but Abdulrahman Al Ghamdi levelled matters from a spot kick he was awarded when felled by Abdulrahman at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium last night.

“I can say nothing about my team but congratulate them because they tried everything in this game even after losing a player [Alex Brosque] because of injury very early in the game,” Dalic said.

“We created many chances, particularly in the first half-hour. We did everything but score. I am very happy with the team’s performance and to reach our target to finish on top of the group.”

Al Ain began offensively and had three shots at the Ittihad goal within the first five minutes.

None of them were particularly threatening, though, as the goalkeeper, Fawaz Al Qarni, collected two efforts comfortably and in-between pushed out Brosque’s low shot to the corner of the net by diving to his right.

The Australian forward was then forced to leave the action after twisting his ankle and was replaced by the Moroccan Yassine El Ghanassey.

“It wasn’t very serious but I didn’t want to take any risk of playing him with an injury. He should be back for our next game, on Sunday against Sharjah, in the Arabian Gulf League,” Dalic said.

Al Ain next face the second-place team from Group A in the knockout stages. At present that is Al Jazira (10 points), who meet group leaders Al Shabab (12) of Saudi Arabia in Abu Dhabi tonight.

“We have completed our matches and can’t choose our opponent. They are both tough and strong teams,” said Dalic.

“I am going down to watch that game in Abu Dhabi, but it doesn’t matter whom we play in this home-and-away format.”

Khalid Al Quroni, the Ittihad coach, was happy to return with a point ahead of their domestic Saudi Cup second leg semi-final against Al Ahli.

“We didn’t want to go out from this stadium with a defeat,” he said.

“A win or a draw will give my players the confidence and motivation when we play Ahli in four days.

“I think we played a good game. We conceded an own goal and then scored the equaliser. So it was our game.

“I think both teams played well and both teams created chances. It was a good game for the fans.

“Al Ain won their last game against Lekwiya 5-0. They scored all their goals in the first 65 minutes. We studied them well and didn’t allow them to score early and for them to run away with the game.”

Ittihad progress to the knockout stages after finishing runners-up to Al Ain, but Al Quroni insisted he was not looking beyond the domestic cup match, which his team trail 2-0 from the first leg.

“Our focus is against Ahli and we will know whom we meet later on Wednesday night,” he said.

“In the continental championship, it doesn’t matter whom you meet. When it comes to the round of 16, they are all tough teams and if we want to win the ACL, then we must be able to face any team.”

apassela@thenational.ae

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