ABU DHABI // Al Wasl enjoyed a two-goal lead twice in the game, first in regulation time and, much later, in the penalty shoot-out after a 2-2 deadlock, but they let it slip away, allowing Al Ain to emerge winners and book their passage to the President’s Cup semi-finals late on Monday night.
After every member of the team had their spot kicks taken, it was left for the two goalkeepers. Khalid Essa of Al Ain fired it to the corner of the net but Rashid Ali’s effort went wide to leave the Garden City club celebrating the 9-8 score after the sudden-death shoot-out.
Rashid made two excellent saves of the first two shots at the goal from Alex Brosque and Omar Abdulrahman, but Wasl’s Mario Donda was wide and Andre Senghor’s effort was blocked by Essa to put the teams on par.
“It was great comeback from our players to win the game,” Quique Sanchez Flores, the Al Ain coach, said.
“To reach the semi-finals in this competition was very important for the club and the players were aware of it, and they did it.
“There was not a dull moment in this match. We conceded two early goals through mistakes and it was really difficult to come back to level the scores when the opposition falls down in defence.
“It was another great comeback for us when we were two goals down in the shoot-out. It takes a lot of character from the players and they showed what they are made of on the night.”
Hector Cuper, the Wasl coach, was gracious in defeat after his players left their off-field problems – the club’s board resigned two days ago – to give an excellent performance on the night.
“I must congratulate my players for a very good game,” the Argentine said. “We had an excellent chance to win this game. The players did everything they could but win the game.
“We came to this game having prepared for the penalty shoot-out. We were just not lucky enough on the night.”
Surprisingly, it was Wasl who were 2-0 up in the first half hour. Maher Jassim’s corner was bundled in to the back of the net by Asamoah Gyan in front of a crowded goalmouth.
Donda doubled the joy for the Wasl fans by doubling the lead when he found the net on the rebound of his spot kick that was blocked by Al Ain’s Essa.
Edson Puch was felled by a clumsy tackle from Ismail Ahmed, the Al Ain centre-back, after he failed to clear the ball.
Brosque narrowed the lead when he volleyed beautifully on a lobbed pass from Omar Abdulrahman to split the Wasl defence.
Gyan put them on par with a spot kick which he earned from a fall from the narrowest touches by the Ali, the Wasl keeper.
Having lost their early advantage, Wasl fell back in defence and relied on counter-attacks in a bid to hold on to the deadlock, which they managed to do to take the game in to extra time.
They continued to play the same strategy but created the best scoring chance from a flowing move in the first half of the overtime, unlucky though, when the substitute Fahad Hadeed’s effort crashed against the near post.
Emanuel Culio, the Argentine midfielder signed from Deportivo La Coruna, was a confirmed mid-season signing for the Zabeel Stadium, making his first appearance for the new club. Hassan Zahran, the Emirati defender of Al Dhafra, was the other.