Al Ain v Al Hilal: Crespo proud of victory but demands focus for ACL semi-final second leg

UAE side in a great position to reach the final after ending the Saudi club's world record winning run with a 4-2 victory at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium

Powered by automated translation

Hernan Crespo praised his Al Ain players for their memorable victory against Al Hilal in the Asian Champions League semi-final on Wednesday, but warned the job remains only half done as they target a place in the showpiece.

The UAE club defeated their Saudi opponents 4-2 in the first leg at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with Soufiane Rahimi netting a first-half hat-trick. The match had been postponed 24 hours because of the adverse weather that hit the UAE the previous day.

The result snapped Hilal’s remarkable 34-match winning streak, Al Ain inflicting the record four-time Asian champions' first defeat since last September. It represented Hilal’s first loss in this year’s Champions League.

For Al Ain, the 2003 champions sit in pole position to reach a fourth continental final – and first since 2016.

However, despite the healthy lead going into the second leg, manager Crespo knows what lies ahead in the return fixture in Riyadh next Tuesday.

“I am proud of the players who were able to make the Al Ain fans happy against a strong and distinguished competitor, and another confrontation awaits us in Riyadh,” the Argentine said.

“We are happy with the result in this match, which is only the first half of the Champions League semi-final, and we are required to focus on the return match.

“We realise that our task will not be easy. Nothing is decided as we still have a match in Riyadh, and everyone should be ready for the next match. The most important thing in life and in football is to be competitive."

Rahimi, who struck three times in last month’s quarter-final win against Hilal's city rivals Al Nassr, opened the scoring on six minutes before then converting two first-half penalties.

It lifted the Moroccan into sole lead of the 2023/24 Champions League scoring charts with 11 goals. Having also won Al Ain’s third penalty on the night, dispatched by Kaku, Rahimi was rightfully named man of the match.

"I will prepare for the second leg as I do for all matches, mentally and physically,” the forward said. “I prepare the same way for all matches, and I will not change that.

"We played against three Saudi teams - Al Fayha, Al Nassr and Al Hilal - and I am grateful to have scored against all of them. I hope I can score in the next match as well.

"I am proud of our performance against a big team like Al Hilal. Everyone wants to play perfectly in big matches. Such matches require big players, and I like to always show my best."

Meanwhile, Hilal manager Jorge Jesus dismissed suggestions his side, Champions League runners-up last year, had underestimated Al Ain, saying post-match: "There is no such thing called overconfidence. In football, you can't control what happens in the match.

"We are not used to conceding four goals and we should sit and analyse why this happened and correct it. The team is used to winning matches and this is an important competition for us.

"We want to reach the final and we will rectify the issues before the return leg."

Updated: May 06, 2024, 8:43 AM