'I saw flames in their eyes' - Khalid Al Hashemi says desire was key to Al Ain's victory

Defender dedicates Asian Champions League glory to UAE leadership following win over Yokohama F Marinos

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Al Ain defender Khalid Al Hashemi dedicated the club’s Asian Champions League success to the UAE’s leadership, saying he could “see the flames of desire” in the players’ eyes as they delivered a second continental crown for the country.

The Adnoc Pro League side, Asian champions in 2003, rebounded on Saturday night from a first-leg defeat to triumph 5-1 against Yokohama F Marinos in the second leg of the final at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

With the 6-3 aggregate win, Al Ain became Asian champions for the first time in 21 years. They represent the only Emirati side to have captured the continent’s premier club crown.

“To begin with, I’m thankful for everything,” Al Hashemi told The National. “I'm over the moon as they say. I would like to give this competition, this trophy, this gold medal to our president, [President] Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed. Thankfully, we won this, and we give him this happiness.

“Also, I would like to give this to our [club] president Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed [Deputy Ruler of Abu Dhabi] and also [Al Ain vice-chairman] Sheikh Sultan bin Hamdan and the board members and everyone included in this club – fans, technical staff. Everyone, literally.

“We did well in this competition, and we well deserved it. What a run we had, especially after the knockout stage. We did amazing in each game, especially at home. Well deserved, thankfully.”

On Saturday, both Soufiane Rahimi and Kodjo Laba struck twice – Laba, not selected for the quarter-finals and semi-finals, was a second-half substitute – with Kaku registering Al Ain’s other goal, from the penalty spot. Yan Matheus had scored for Yokohama five minutes before half-time to level the tie at 3-3.

However, the visitors’ hopes of emerging from their first Champions League final with the title were dealt a huge blow when goalkeeper William Popp was shown a straight red card deep into first-half stoppage-time. At the time Yokohama were level on aggregate.

On the secret to Al Ain’s title success, Al Hashemi said: “What I saw from everyone, the desire. The more you desire, the more bad you want it, you'll take it. This is a secret that I take myself in my life. How bad you want it, you'll take anything.

“I saw this in the eyes of the players. I saw the desire that they want to win the trophy and thankfully we won it. I saw the fire, the flame in their eyes, and we won it.

“Five-one, it's not an easy game, not an easy result as well, but a big result. Thankfully, we did it.”

Champions in 2003, Al Ain have finished runners-up twice since, most recently in 2016. The similarities between then and this year’s final were striking; as was the case eight years ago, Al Ain lost 2-1 away to an East Asian team – South Korea's Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors – having scored first.

They then failed to overturn the result at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, drawing the second leg 1-1 to lose out on the trophy 3-2 on aggregate.

Asked about handling the pressure on Saturday given the club’s near-misses in 2005 and 2016, Al Hashemi said: “To be honest, in the beginning we had a bad reaction, especially after 2016.

“Everybody remembered that scenario they had there in [South] Korea, 2-1, and again [this year] in Japan, 2-1. So, most people were afraid that we might repeat the scenario.

“But thankfully we thought positive about it, and we talk positively about it as well. We challenged ourselves to turn the table on our side and we did it well.

“To be honest, what a performance from everyone. And I'm really happy for the guys, our captains, Khalid Essa, Bandar [Al Ahbabi], Ahmed Barman; especially also Laba, after being out in four games and to be back and score two goals in maybe 40 minutes.

“I'm so happy for the guys. They deserve it. And we are young here, a new generation. Inshallah, we get to have many more trophies.”

Al Hashemi, 27, was pivotal in the club making history once more. He featured in all but one of Al Ain's Champions League matches this season and was one of the star performers in the quarter-final, when he helped shackle Cristiano Ronaldo, and the semi-final against a talent-packed Al Hilal side on a 34-match winning run.

Al Ain became the last team to win the Champions League in its current guise – the tournament takes on a different format from next year – while the 2003 team lifted the inaugural title after the competition’s rebrand in 2002.

“Luckily, I'm the guy, the player, that won the last version of this competition and luckily the [2003 side] won the first version,” Al Hashemi said. “That means it’s something meant to be for us.

“And I remember also in 2016 I had a tweet that I was wishing Al Ain good luck in the final and they lost. And now today I won as an Al Ain player.

“You see, life is full of opportunities, full of wonder. I don't want that we want to wait another 20 years to win another Champions League. No, Inshallah. With the upcoming leagues, Champions Leagues, that we win also more.”

Al Hashemi added Al Ain’s victory would be celebrated as one for the UAE, saying: “I want the other clubs to do it. We represent also the UAE. We don't just represent Al Ain.

“Here we represent the country and I hope that Al Ain wins more and also that other clubs win to represent the country in the best way possible.”

Asked how he would celebrate the moment, Al Hashemi replied: "I'm going to sleep now. I'm so tired.”

Updated: May 26, 2024, 2:38 PM