Yokohama v Al Ain: How UAE club reached the Asian Champions League final

Al Ain topped their group before overcoming Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr and an Al Hilal side riding a 34-game win streak in the knockout stages

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Al Ain play Japanese club Yokohama F Marinos in this month's two-legged Asian Champions League final.

The UAE club, the only Emirati side to be crowned Asian champions, contest the first leg in Tokyo on Saturday, May 11. The return match takes place at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25.

After topping their group, Al Ain's path to the final was far from easy, with Saudi powerhouses Al Nassr, led by five-time Ballon d'Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo, and Al Hilal, the four-time champions of Asia riding a 34-match win streak, their quarter-final and semi-final opponents respectively.

Here is a look back on Al Ain's path to the final:

Group stage

Al Ain finished top of Group A with 15 points after an impressive campaign that saw them win five of six matches with one defeat.

A 3-0 victory over Pakhtakor away in Uzbekistan in their opening game set the tone and was followed up with a 4-2 win over Turkmenistan side Ahal. A pair of wins over Saudi Arabia's Al Fayha (4-1 at home; 3-2 away) put the Garden City club firmly in control of the group before a setback in their fifth game – a 3-1 defeat at home to Pakhtakor.

With qualification to the knockout stage already secured, Al Ain rounded off their group assignment with a 2-1 victory at Ahal.

Last 16

Al Ain were paired with Group B winners Nasaf in the round-of-16. After a goalless first leg in Qarshi, it was the Uzbeks who went ahead in the return, Akmal Mozgovoy breaking the deadlock on 51 minutes. Nasaf's lead didn't last long, with Kodjo Laba giving Al Ain parity four minutes later. With the game seemingly headed to extra time, Sofiane Rahimi netted the winner two minutes into injury time.

Erik believes Al Ain fans can make a difference in AFC Champions League final

Erik believes Al Ain fans can make a difference in AFC Champions League final


Al Ain's reward was a mouthwatering tie against an Al Nassr side riding an unbeaten eight match run in the continent's premier competition and boasting superstar Cristiano Ronaldo leading the attack.

An electric night at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium saw Rahimi grab the game’s only goal, while Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa twice somehow repelled Ronaldo. Nassr's woes were compounded as defender Aymeric Laporte was shown a red card late on to rule him out of the return leg in Riyadh.

The second leg in Riyadh finished 4-3 to Nassr, with Essa at fault for three of the Saudi side's goals. 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.

Ronaldo, who had moments before scored from the spot to force the shoot-out, departed the pitch visibly upset by the result.


Al Ain were again paired with Saudi opposition, with Al Hilal heavy favourites as they entered the two legs riding an incredible 34-game win streak.

The first leg in Al Ain was postponed 24 hours due to the bad weather that had battered the Emirates. When it did kick off, Al Ain showed they would not be overawed by their Saudi opponents.

A first-half Rahimi hat-trick, including two penalties, gave Hernan Crespo's side a 3-0 lead before Malcom pulled a goal back shortly after the break. Kaku restored the UAE side's three-goal advantage when he slotted home their third penalty of the night before Hilal were awarded a spot-kick of their own on 78 minutes, converted by reigning Asian Player of the Year Salem Al Dawsari.

Crespo urged his players to embrace the pressure ahead of Tuesday's semi-final second leg and that was put to the test inside four minutes as Ruben Neves slotted home from the penalty spot.

But respond they did, with defender Erik applying the finish to Yahia Nader's pull-back from the edge of the Hilal area on 12 minutes.

Al Dawsari's goal after the restart had Hilal 2-1 ahead on the night but still trailing 5-4 on aggregate. Al Ain, held out, displaying defiance and durability to halt the Hilal juggernaut. The UAE's only winners of the continental title way back in 2003, Al Ain had secured a first Asian Champions League final appearance since 2016 and fourth overall.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 7:52 AM