A look back at Al Ain's three previous visits to the Asian Champions League final

UAE's most successful club take on Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos in the 2024 showpiece aiming to win their second title

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Al Ain will this month attempt to lift the Asian Champions League for a second time in their history – and first in more than two decades. Thanks to their success in 2003, the Garden City club remain the only Emirati side to capture the continent’s most coveted club trophy.

Al Ain have finished runner-up twice since, in 2005 and 2016, and will bid to go one better when they take on Japan’s Yokohama F Marinos across two legs from this weekend. The first match falls this Saturday in Yokohama, before the return fixture plays out at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on May 25.

Here we look at Al Ain’s three previous Champions League finals as the club attempt to write yet more history for the UAE.

Al Ain v BEC Tero Sasana (2003)

The inaugural tournament in its current “Asian Champions League” guise – previously the Asian Club Championship, the competition dates back to 1967 – Al Ain took on Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana for the honour of having their name etched on the trophy.

Conveniently for Al Ain, their entire campaign until the second leg of the final was staged in the Garden City and they made the most of it.

In the showpiece’s first leg, taking place at a packed Tahnoun bin Mohamed Stadium, the home side were excellent, triumphing 2-0 to give themselves a strong advantage going to Thailand.

However, Al Ain had to initially survive BEC striking the crossbar in the first half before Salem Jowhar’s long-range strike five minutes before half time put them ahead.

Just after the hour, Al Ain’s chances of victory increased when BEC’s Wittaya Nubthong was shown a red card, with Mohammed Omar taking advantage with 15 minutes remaining to add Al Ain’s second. It would prove decisive.

Managed by the incomparable Bruno Metsu, Al Ain then had to sweat out the return fixture at Rajamangala Stadium in Bangkok, especially when BEC halved the deficit on the hour from the penalty spot.

Yet Al Ain held on to win 2-1 on aggregate. They had made history not only in the rebranded tournament but for the UAE also.

Al Ain v Al Ittihad (2005)

The 2003 champions needed only two years to return to the showpiece match in Asian club football, where this time they would meet fellow Gulf side Al Ittihad.

The Saudi Arabians arrived at the final as the defending champions having lifted the trophy the previous year – and they ultimately lived up to their billing.

A cagey first leg played out at the Tahnoun bin Mohamed Stadium, with Al Ain taking the lead through Ali Al Dhahri’s rebound five minutes into the second half to send the sold-out ground wild in celebration.

However, Sierra Leone striker Mohamed Kallon, on loan from Monaco, converted a penalty four minutes from time to take a draw back to Jeddah. Suddenly, Ittihad held the upper hand.

At the Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium, Kallon was again Al Ain’s tormentor, putting the hosts ahead in the tie two minutes into the second leg. Mohammed Noor struck 20 minutes later to double Ittihad’s advantage, only for Al Ain’s Shehab Ahmed to pull one back from the penalty spot.

The UAE side’s hopes were short-lived, though. In an instant, Cameroon international Joseph Desire-Job, a temporary transfer from England’s Middlesbrough, replied a minute later to send Ittihad 4-1 up on the night and 5-2 ahead on aggregate.

Al Ain would find a consolation in injury-time, through Panama striker Luis Tejada, but it mattered little. Triumphing 5-3 on aggregate, Ittihad were back-to-back Asian champions.

Al Ain v Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors (2016)

After a succession of semi-final disappointments, Al Ain at last made it back to the showpiece after 11 years in the hope of emulating the club’s celebrated class of 2003.

Managed in 2016 by present-day Croatia coach Zlatko Dalic, the UAE club were excellent on their way to the showpiece, with playmaker Omar Abdulrahman inspired. The Emirati, for long tipped to make a move to Europe, was later named the tournament’s MVP – and would also that year collect the Asian Player of the Year award.

It was Abdulrahman who created the opener in the first leg at South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, laying the ball to Danilo Asprilla just after the hour at Jeonju World Cup Stadium. The Colombian, often mercurial, laced home his shot.

However, Jeonbuk replied swiftly with two goals in a seven-minute spell. Brazilian winger Leonardo got both, the second from the penalty spot after Mohanad Salem and Mohammed Fayez combined inadvertently to give away the spot-kick, and Jeonbuk had a slender 2-1 lead to take to the UAE.

At an expectant Hazza bin Zayed Stadium one week later – Al Ain knew a 1-0 win would be enough to seal the title – it was Jeonbuk who struck first, substitute Han Kyo-won opening the scoring on the half-hour.

Stunned but not subdued, Al Ain fought back four minutes later, when Lee Myung-joo equalised against his compatriots.

Then, shortly after, Al Ain spurned a golden opportunity to level the tie. Surprisingly, Abdulrahman deferred penalty duties to striker Douglas, who blazed his spot-kick over the Jeonbuk crossbar.

Recognising that would have been enough to clinch the trophy on away goals, Al Ain never really recovered. Dalic and Jeonbuk counterpart Park Choong-kyun were banished to the stands following an altercation moments before half time, and in the end, Al Ain could not find another goal. They lost 3-2 on aggregate, their wait for Asia’s premier club trophy rolling on.

Updated: May 08, 2024, 8:25 AM