Khalid Essa praises Al Ain teammates after dramatic shoot-out win over Ronaldo's Al Nassr

Goalkeeper at fault for three Nassr goals but penalty save in shoot-out sees Garden City club advance to Asian Champions League semi-finals

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Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa praised his teammates' bravery after they prevailed over Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr on penalties to secure a place in the Asian Champions League semi-finals.

Monday's second leg in Riyadh finished 4-3 to Nassr, with Essa at fault for three of the Saudi side's goals. Following Al Ain's 1-0 victory in last week's first leg, the match went to extra time and then spot kicks, where Essa atoned for his earlier errors, saving Marcelo Brozovic's effort while Alex Telles and Otavio also fluffed their lines for the UAE club to triumph 3-1.

"I thank God for granting us success. I believe that the match was dramatic, and we expected Al Nassr to attack us from the first minute, after losing in Al Ain," Essa said.

Al Ain had led through Sofiane Rahimi's 28th-minute goal, following a lengthy VAR review, and the Moroccan added a second on 45 minutes to put the Garden City club firmly in control.

Nassr were thrown a lifeline five minutes into first half added time when a rush of blood left Essa stranded outside his area. Sadio Mane's scuffed shot fell kindly for Abdulrahman Gareeb to slot home to an unguarded net.

Essa's own goal on 52 minutes levelled the tie at 2-2 on the night and Nassr drew level on aggregate when Essa failed to repel a Telles free kick.

"I thank my fellow players for being steadfast and not backing down, especially after we conceded the second goal, and this was the turning point in the match," Essa said.

There was added drama in extra time when Ayman Yahya had his yellow card for a foul on Al Ain captain Bandar Al Ahbabi upgraded to a red following a VAR review.

Al Ain once again led the match and the tie when Sultan Al Shamsi poked home after a blunder by Nassr keeper Raghed Al Najjar.

Ronaldo, who had earlier missed a golden chance to level the score at 2-2 but inexplicably missed from two yards out, was awarded a penalty with four minutes remaining after being pulled back by substitute Saeed Juma.

The Portuguese kept his composure to casually chip his effort down the middle and beyond the despairing Essa.

Essa would make amends in the shoot-out, saving from Brozovic. Telles smashed his effort against the bar while Otavio thrashed his penalty wide. Ronaldo successfully converted his spot kick with Rahimi, Alejandro Romero and Al Shamsi perfect for Al Ain.

"I analysed the situation of Al Nassr’s strikers with the goalkeeping coach, who meets with me before every match to discuss all matters related to shooting, including penalty kicks," said Essa.

Al Ain are the UAE's only winners of the Asian Champions League, in 2003, and will now face the winner of Tuesday's quarter-final between Saudi giants Al Ittihad and Al Hilal.

"It is too early to talk about the opponent we will face in the semi-finals, as we have a very important match in the league in four days," Essa said, referring to Al Ain's match against Ajman on Friday. Hernan Crespo's team trail UAE Pro League leaders Al Wasl by eight points.

"As long as you are a big club, you must compete for all tournaments."

Updated: March 12, 2024, 6:43 AM