Caio scored moments before the final whistle for Al Ain, a late, late intervention but a hugely important one at that.
The goal had given his side a 3-1 lead in last month's Asian Champions League semi-final first leg against El Jaish, putting a halt to a second-half rally from the Qataris, lifting Al Ain ever closer to a first continental final in 11 years.
The match ended and the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium rejoiced. The Al Ain players embraced each other and celebrated in front of their fans. Yet it all seemed a little excessive.
More from Asian Chamopions League semi-final:
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• Omar Abdulrahman: Man-of-the-match means nothing — being champions of Asia does
Although the Champions League has long represented Al Ain’s most cherished competition, and although the pressure to emulate the club’s 2003 success increases by the season, the job remains only half done. As El Jaish showed in the initial encounter three weeks ago, they possess the tools to hurt Zlatko Dalic’s side.
Initially, Al Ain appeared to be cruising. Douglas scored early and was swiftly followed by Omar Abdulrahman, with the hosts steaming ahead and looking to render the return match redundant.
But Sardor Rashidov won and converted a penalty for El Jaish seven minutes after half-time, causing Al Ain to grow tense. Suddenly anxious, they teetered on conceding another, a potential hammer blow. But Caio struck in injury-time, a fortunate goal after El Jaish goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar had somehow erred, and the final moved within touching distance.
Al Ain, though, would be wise to take heed. Given El Jaish’s attempted comeback in the first leg, given they defeated Al Ain in Doha in the group stage in March this year, Tuesday’s second leg promises to be a testing clash still.
There is a sense among Al Ain supporters that their team is already through, that the match at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium will not pose too many problems. Predictably, Al Ain’s management has been keen to discourage such talk. Their caution is understandable.
Should El Jaish score first, they would need only another and to keep Al Ain at bay to qualify on the away-goal rule. So Al Ain must approach the second match the same way they did the first: go on the attack, strike early and move within easy reach of the showpiece.
In Douglas, Caio and Omar Abdulrahman — easily the most talented player between the two teams — the 2003 champions have enough firepower to do that. There is no need to rest on their lead, to draw El Jaish on. Al Ain will be better for taking the game to the Qataris.
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