Al Ain defeat Yokohama F Marinos to lift Asian Champions League crown for second time

UAE side, champions in 2003 and runners-up twice since, are only Asian champions from the Emirates

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Al Ain have been crowned continental champions for only the second time after they defeated Yokohama F Marinos 6-3 on aggregate in the Asian Champions League on Saturday night.

The UAE club, the only Emirati winners of Asia’s marquee club competition, triumphed 5-1 in the second leg at a packed Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to overturn their 2-1 defeat from the opening encounter in Japan two weeks ago.

Managed by former Parma, AC Milan and Chelsea striker Hernan Crespo, Al Ain took the lead on eight minutes when Soufiane Rahimi exchanged passes brilliantly with Yahia Nader and slotted home. It represented the Moroccan’s 12 goal of the 2023/24 tournament, extending his lead at the top of the scoring charts.

Al Ain doubled their advantage just after the half hour. This time, Rahimi was bundled over in the Yokohama area by defender Shinnosuke Hatanaka and, after a lengthy VAR review, a penalty was given. Paraguay international Kaku slotted home.

However, five minutes before half time, Yokohama struck back to level the tie. Al Ain defender Kouame Autonne took a heavy touch to allow Yan Matheus to race clear. The Brazilian checked back and finished well past Khalid Essa.

Then, in the 11th minute of first-half injury-time, Rahimi raced clear and was felled just outside the visitors’ area by Yokohama goalkeeper William Popp, who was given a straight red.

On 67 minutes, Al Ain made their numerical count. A looping ball dropped to Rahimi on the left-hand side of the Yokohama area and the forward chopped back across his marker to drill a low finish inside the near post.

In stoppage-time, substitute Kodjo Laba struck twice to round off an historic night for the hosts. First, the Togo striker pounced on a huge mistake from replacement goalkeeper Fuma Shirasaka to slot into the empty night; minutes later, he poked home Matias Palacios's low cross to send the majority of the 24,826 in attendance wild in celebration.

The win means Al Ain emulate their celebrated side of 2003, who clinched the inaugural rebranded Champions League. Al Ain were contesting a fourth continental final having finished runners-up in 2005 and 2016.

Also, as Asian champions, Al Ain have booked their place at next year’s expanded, 32-team Fifa World Cup in the United States. They will take their place there alongside the likes of Real Madrid, Manchester City, Bayern Munich and Paris Saint-Germain.

Updated: May 26, 2024, 3:17 AM