After slow start, UAE clubs bite back in Asian Champions League, and give themselves a chance

John McAuley that after collectively taking three of the first 16 points available to them in Asian Champions League group play, the UAE's representatives finally showed real fight on Matchday Three.

Fares Juma struck right at the death, Nilmar pounced for an unlikely double and Omar Abdulrahman conjured a magical moment when needed most.

Three crucial contributions, three results to transform the UAE’s hopes of another run at the knockout stages of the Asian Champions League.

Al Jazira got off the mark, Al Nasr moved top of Group A, Al Ain restored pride and recovered their shot at qualification. Suddenly, things don't seem that bad, after all.

It was timely, compulsory, too. The UAE’s three representatives had begun with a trio of defeats last month; after Matchday Two, only Nasr had points, winning 2-0 at home to Iran’s Sepahan.

So three points from a possible 18. A country that had provided semi-finalists in 2014 and finalists last year was in danger of falling at the first hurdle.

Then on Tuesday, Jazira somehow scraped an implausible point in injury-time at home to a far-superior Al Hilal. Then Nasr quickly followed with a much-deserved 2-1 victory at Al Ittihad’s intimidating King Abdullah Sports City. Then Al Ain got off the mark with a narrow home win against Al Ahli, Saudi Arabia’s league leaders.

Read more: With bad times now behind them, Zlatko Dalic says Al Ain have 'come back stronger than before'

By late Wednesday, the UAE had offered a decent riposte to claims its clubs were good only for an early exit. Sure, Jazira’s progress still looks highly fanciful, but they fought against injuries, suspensions, fatigue and inexperience to fight back against a dominant Hilal.

Sure, Nasr are not considered strong enough, really, to make a fist of this tournament, but there they are, heading their group and seemingly set for a first crack at the knockout stages.

And sure, Al Ain should be better than results show, but El Jaish’s 100 per cent record means second spot in Group D appears a straight fight between the UAE champions, Ahli and Uzbekistan’s Nasaf. Truth be told, Al Ain are the best equipped.

This week was the week the Arabian Gulf League's representatives, refusing to be cowed by the effects of a packed programme and a series of setbacks, bit back. Midway through the groups, at least each has given themselves a chance.​

jmcauley@thenational.ae

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