From toppling Ronaldo to ending Al Hilal's record run: Al Ain's route to the ACL title

UAE club win the Asian Champions League for the second time with a 6-3 final victory over Yokohama F Marinos

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Al Ain won the Asian Champions League for the second time in their history on Saturday evening with an emphatic 6-3 aggregate victory over Japan's Yokohama F Marinos in the final.

Having secured the inaugural edition of the rebranded competition in 2003, the UAE side reached two more finals but had to settle for runner-up on both occasions. There was no denying Hernan Crespo's team this time, though, the win against Marinos the culmination of a remarkable run that saw Al Ain topple a couple of Saudi heavyweights en route to the trophy.

Here is how Al Ain became the champions of Asia.

Al Ain win Group A with ease

The only UAE club to gain direct entry to the group stage as the Adnoc Pro League's 2021/22 champions, Al Ain made light work of their Group A assignment. They began with a 3-0 win away to Uzbek club Pakhtakor, then comfortably beat Turkmenistan's Ahal 4-2 at home. Successive wins over Saudi Pro League side Al Fayha – 4-1 at home and 3-2 away – put the Garden City club in command of the group.

A surprise 3-1 home defeat to Pakhtakor occurred in the penultimate group game but Al Ain bounced back to beat Ahal 2-1 away to top Group A with 17 points, six clear of runners-up Al Fayha. As such, they became the first team to book their spot in the last 16.

Nasaf beaten in last 16

Drawn against Uzbekistan's Nasaf in the round of 16, Al Ain found themselves heading for the exit when, after the first leg in Qarshi ended goalless, Akmal Mozgovoy struck for the visitors in the 51st minute at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

Nasaf's lead lasted just four minutes as Togolese forward Kodjo Laba levelled for Al Ain before Soufiane Rahimi scored a dramatic late winner in the second minute of injury time for the UAE side to advance 2-1 on aggregate.

Ronaldo and Al Nassr eliminated in quarter-finals

Next up for Al Ain was a showdown with an Al Nassr side packed with some of the finest talent in world football, led by the Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo. Rahimi was the hero once again in the first leg as the Moroccan forward scored the only goal to give Al Ain a slender lead to take to Riyadh.

Al Ain appeared in cruise control when Rahimi struck twice in the first half of the second leg for a 3-0 aggregate advantage, but goals from Abdulrahman Ghareeb and former Manchester United full-back Alex Telles - either side of a Khalid Essa own goal - pulled Nassr level at 3-3.

Sultan Al Shamsi restored Al Ain's lead in extra-time, only for Ronaldo to convert a penalty at the death to take the tie to spot-kicks. It was Crespo's side who kept their cool in the shootout, winning it 3-1 to advance to the semi-finals.

Al Ain topple mighty Al Hilal to reach final

Al Ain entered their semi-final with Saudi giants Al Hilal as the rightful underdogs. The Riyadh club boasted arguably the strongest squad in Asia – even without the injured Neymar – and arrived in the UAE for the first leg riding a world record 34-match winning run.

However, led by the superb Rahimi, Al Ain put themselves in charge of the tie with a 4-2 first-leg victory at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with the Moroccan's first-half hat-trick supported by a Kaku penalty after the break. Malcom and Salem Al Dawsari scored the goals for Hilal to keep the tie alive.

Hilal struck early in the second leg in Riyadh through a Ruben Neves penalty, but full-back Erik restored Al Ain's two-goal cushion just a few minutes later. Al Dawsari scored his second goal of the tie after half time, and while Hilal pushed for an equaliser, Al Ain held firm to book their fourth final appearance with a 5-4 aggregate victory.

Al Ain fight back against Marinos to seal title

Al Ain made the perfect start to the first leg of the final against Yokohama when Mohammed Abbas pounced on a loose ball in the 12th minute to give the UAE side the lead.

In an entertaining game inside a sold-out Nissan Stadium in Yokohama, the hosts made their second-half pressure count with two late goals as Asahi Uenaka levelled before Kota Watanabe struck the winner six minutes from time.

Trailing 2-1 heading into the second leg at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Al Ain were aiming to become just the second team – after Al Ittihad in 2004 – to win the title on home turf having lost the first leg away.

The Garden City side were level on aggregate after only eight minutes following a skilful exchange between Yahia Nader and Rahimi. They were then ahead in the 33rd minute when Rahimi was bundled over in the area, with Kaku stepping up to slot home the penalty.

Yan Matheus restored parity for the Japanese team during a frenetic first half, but hopes of a Yokohama fightback were dealt a major blow when William Popp was shown a red card in the 11th minute of injury time, the goalkeeper fouling Rahimi when the Moroccan was racing clear on goal.

Al Ain made their numerical advantage count as Rahimi scored his tournament-leading 13th goal to make it 4-3 on aggregate in the 67th minute, before an injury-time double from Laba secured a famous 6-3 victory.

Updated: May 26, 2024, 1:32 PM