Al Ain ended a run of disappointing results in emphatic fashion by crushing Sriwijaya of Indonesia 4-0 yesterday to qualify for the group phase of the Asian Champions League (ACL).
The 2003 ACL champions and nine-time UAE top-flight winners now move into Group F in the East Asia half of the annual continental tournament and are guaranteed six matches, three of them on the other side of the continent.
Al Ain open their Champions League campaign at home to FC Seoul on March 1. The other clubs in their group are Hangzhou Greentown of China and Nagoya Grampus of Japan. Al Ain will travel to Japan to play Nagoya Grampus on March 15.
The outcome yesterday was in little doubt despite the big home crowd that came to see Sriwijaya play at Jakabaring Stadium in the Sumatran city of Palembang.
Elias Ribiero, the Brazilian forward, scored twice and Omar Abdulrahman, the UAE international midfielder, scored a goal and set up another.
Al Ain went into the game on the back of an 11-match Pro League winless streak, but their relegation fight would never have been guessed at by the way they dominated Sriwijaya, winners of Indonesia's domestic cup competition.
Abdulrahman, the diminutive playmaker, cleverly set up Haddaf al Amri for a goal into an empty net in the 14th minute.
Elias was taken down in the box in the fourth minute of added time at the end of the first half and converted the spot-kick to give Al Ain a 2-0 lead.
It was more of the same in the second half. Bobby Satria, the Sriwijaya defender, was judged to have brought down midfielder Ali al Wehaibi in the area in the 51st minute, and Abdulrahman converted the penalty.
Elias completed scoring with an emphatic goal from distance one minute later.
"I'm glad that we played well," said Alexandre Gallo, Al Ain's Brazilian coach. "Winning has been a habit in our domestic matches [over the years] but we rarely win by such a large margin. Our players did great, exactly like my instructions.
"We are ready for the group phase. I hope we'll do well."
With Al Ain through, the Pro League again has four teams in the group stages of the ACL, though the other three are playing in the West Asia half of the tournament.