Abu Dhabi: Al Ain’s quarter-final exit from the AFC Champions League on Monday night handed a double blow for the purple brigade. Their race to be in the Fifa Club World Cup, to be held in the capital in December, has also come to an end along with the progress in the continental competition.
Al Jazira, the defending champions of Arabian Gulf League, will now be taking part in the mega club event for the host nation.
Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal simply proved too powerful on the night that was dominated by Carlos Eduardo. The Brazilian first pumped in two goals in quick succession from setpieces to leave Al Ain in tatters and then completed the crowning glory for the evening by securing his hat-trick for an authoritative win.
Coach Zoran Mamic clearly didn’t have a plan ‘B’ and instead of trying to regain lost ground, Al Ain were left fighting to avoid further humiliation. There were two Brazilians in Caio and Douglas in Al Ain’s camp, but they were not even a shade of their countryman Eduardo.
Swedish import Marcus Berg may be playing his second match for Al Ain, but his scoring ability is clearly under the scanner. He was often found wanting as he clearly ran out of ideas once inside the box.
Al Ain’s star playmaker Omar Abdul Rahman’s magic also didn’t work. Coming out from an ankle injury, he couldn’t provide those deft passes at will and adding to the woes were some awful defending. The comeback of Esmail Ahmad after recovering from an injury was expected to give more depth, but the absence of Mohammad Salem due to suspension made the defence-line brittle.
“My team was the best on the ground and had more control of the game until Al Hilal took the lead. My team was not able to translate the opportunities that they had in front of the goal. And if you don’t do that at this stage of the competition, then you certainly will not qualify for the semi-finals,” said Mamic, adding that his team, after conceding two goals could not get back to the level they were in at the start of the match.
“In the second half, we had no choice but to adopt an offensive style. We had to leave spaces in the field and yes we were lucky not to concede few more goals. I don’t think the absence of a couple of players was the reason for the loss. The opposition also had few players missing. I think we lost because we didn’t grab the opportunities we got while they did,” revealed Mamic.
Al Hilal coach Ramon Diaz said he didn’t have any doubt about his team making the semis. “We were confident because of the work done by the team and support staff in the preparation for the match. The team showed great desire to qualify and the spirit remained high all through. They were ready to brace for any circumstances. The absence of key players didn’t matter and hence we managed a strong result against Al Ain,” said Diaz, adding that he would prefer meeting country rivals Al Ahli in the semis more than Iran’s Persepolis.
Eduardo, very much the star of the day, was jubilant with the way he and his teammates performed. “We have a great desire to win the AFC Champions League. I want to do that with Al Hilal. We all are well aware that the club’s fans also aspire to win the continental title and so we all gave it everything,” said Eduardo.