Tears of joy as Al Ain fans celebrate remarkable Asian cup triumph

Supporters hail UAE side for overcoming the odds to be crowned kings of the continent for second time

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Jubilant Al Ain fans have told how dreams came true and prayers were answered as their giant-killing side were crowned champions of Asia for a second time on Saturday.

The streets of the Garden City were transformed into a sea of purple and white – the colours of the triumphant UAE Pro League team – as Al Ain overcame a 2-1 first-leg deficit against Japan's Yokohama F Marinos to surge to victory in the Asian Champions League final in front of thousands of delighted home supporters.

The emphatic 5-1 win – which secured a 6-3 success on aggregate – capped off a remarkable campaign in which some of the region's heavyweight outfits have been conquered, including the might of Saudi Arabia's Al Nassr, led by Portuguese superstar Ronaldo.

Mohammed Al Kaabi, 34, who was one of hundreds of Al Ain supporters who travelled to Japan to cheer on their side in the first leg, could not hold his tears back as they did the job back in the UAE.

“I knew we became champions when we scored our third goal, but I burst into tears with the final whistle. I didn’t imagine that I would cry but it was tears of joy,” he told The National.

Sporting dreams fulfilled

Mr Al Kaabi, who has supported the club since childhood, travelled to Saudi Arabia for the quarter-final and semi-final second legs against Al Nassr and Al Hilal.

He said his family used to take his to watch the club's home games as a young boy.

"Now we take our youngsters to support the club. It is a tradition and our legacy,” he added.

Mr Al Kaabi, who was in the stadium three hours before the match, said he could not sleep that night because of the joy and joined fellow fans to celebrate in the streets after the match.

“I had a dream two nights before that we would win,” he added. "The journey’s memories will stay [with me] for life.

“I called my mother and grandmother to pray for the club before the match. My grandmother was the first person to call after the match. In Al Ain city, men, women, children and elderly support the club.”

“The players did everything, but the fans were the secret behind this achievement. The stadium was full in all matches. Our stadium is the graveyard of all opponents.”

Mohammed Saif Al Ketbi, an Emirati, said the night was even more special than the success in 2003, the inaugural year of the rebranded competition.

“It is the biggest joy we've had in the club’s history,” Mr Al Ketbi told The National. "We won the title in 2003, but the 2024 achievement is bigger it was the strongest edition. We defeated Asia’s giants to get the title.

“We had a poor performance in the local league in the UAE, we changed the coach after the Asian Champion’s group matches, we had injured players and nobody nominated Al Ain to reach the final, but despite all challenges we are the champions of Asia.

“I can't believe we did it. This is a dream come true for every Al Ain supporter. The team showed incredible spirit and determination. We are so proud of them.”

Emad Sowan, 34, a Jordanian fan, was born in Al Ain city and became a supporter from a young age.

“I was 13 when I witnessed the 2003 achievement on TV in Al Ain city, but tonight I witnessed a bigger achievement sitting in the stadium. It is unbelievable feeling,” Mr Sowan told The National.

The dedicated supporter has travelled to Uzbekistan, Japan and Saudi Arabia to see the side's march to victory.

“I book flights and match tickets just to support my team," he said.

"I went to the stadium three hours before the match and was shaking while watching the match especially when they scored their goal. But it turned to joy with the final whistle."

“It was like a carnival in the streets and around the stadium.”

He said the win is a testament to the club's consistent performances and resilience, especially given the challenges they faced throughout the tournament.

“The team’s journey to the final was anything but easy. Facing giant opponents in the knockout stages. The final was a nail-biter, with both sides showing exceptional skill and determination. Soufiane Rahimi's goals secured the win for us.”

He said the city had come together to celebrate a win that will be remembered for years to come.

Al Ain celebrate Asian Champions League glory - in pictures

Updated: May 26, 2024, 2:07 PM