Al Ain get last laugh by denying Al Ahli the treble with President’s Cup win
AL AHLI 0 AL AIN 1
Al Ain - Asamoah Gyan 32’
Man of the match - Omar Abdulrahman (Al Ain)
ABU DHABI // From the wreckage of a decrepit domestic season, Al Ain salvaged silverware, plucking from the rubble the most coveted of prizes.
The Garden City club, twice UAE champions in the past two seasons, relinquished their top-flight title to Al Ahli more than one month ago, but emerged from a frustrating 2013/14 with hands clasped firmly around the President’s Cup.
Ahli, that old foe, represented Al Ain’s opponents for the season-concluding clash yesterday at Zayed Sports City, so this was the sweetest of scripted endings. Once again, it was crafted by the boot of Asamoah Gyan.
In disarray until Zlatko Dalic was installed as coach in early March, Al Ain emerged not only as Asian Champions League quarter-finalists, but as holders of a precious trophy.
They had entered the curtain call unbeaten in 12 matches; 13 would prove the luckiest of all. As rescue acts go, Tara, that ninja cat that last week dominated our desktops, now has company.
“We improved everything these past few months,” Dalic said. “Today in my meeting with my players, I spoke for only two minutes, without tactics.
“I said only three points: ‘Play hard, play with spirit, be calm. We are the better team’. We deserve it the last few months. I believe in my players. I knew we could do it.”
The final whistle was greeted by wild scenes around the stadium, both on the pitch and in the stands, where Al Ain’s supporters had provided a compelling soundtrack throughout.
Having stumbled and stuttered for much of the Arabian Gulf League campaign – a late surge saw them finish sixth – Al Ain finally gave them something to really crow about. It was wholly deserved, too, as they outfought and outlasted their lofty rivals, extinguishing the Dubai club’s hopes of a historic treble.
Gyan will get the plaudits, as he plundered the 44th goal of an exhaustive season. Yet Omar Abdulrahman was once more the heartbeat, leading his colleagues with a performance of poise and panache. There were considerable chunks of commitment, as well, although that was mirrored by everyone in Al Ain white.
The decisive goal came just after the half-hour, when Abdulrahman reacted to a ricochet in the Ahli area to square for Gyan, who tapped home from two yards. It was the simplest of his grand haul this season, but undoubtedly the most significant.
Ahli simply had no response – their first chance took 51 minutes to carve out – despite striking the Al Ain woodwork twice in quick succession late on.
Defending the title they secured 12 months ago, Ahli’s grip slipped from the onset, which will rankle manager Cosmin Olaroiu. The Romanian, who controversially swapped clubs last summer, has masterminded three victories against his former side in the interim. Al Ain, though, would have the final say.
A sixth President’s Cup, and first in five years, should have a restorative effect on the victors, who can look forward to a summer uninterrupted by the travails that last time stunted the pre-season.
Ahli’s defeat will hurt.
That much was clear at the finish, yet they can still reflect on a superb campaign.
“Now we are a little bit upset, but after one week, we look back and be proud of what we’ve done this season,” said Catalin Raducan, the Ahli assistant coach. “We want to be stronger.”
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Published: May 18, 2014 04:00 AM