Al Ain 2 (Asprilla 39', Ahmed 90')
Man of the match: Omar Abdulrahman (Al Ain)
AL AIN // Less than a week following crushing domestic disappointment, Al Ain rebounded to prolong their run on the continent.
The disposed Arabian Gulf League champions are keeping alive in the Asian Champions League, defeating Uzbekistan's Nasaf at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to seal second place in Group D and a place in the last 16.
Five days after last Thursday’s relinquishing of their UAE title, Al Ain responded and could now conceivably conclude the season with both an Asian quarter-final berth and the President’s Cup crown. It would go some way to easing the strain on Zlatko Dalic, their coach, too.
“I thought we played a very good game and I am excited about next 20 days in Champions League and the President’s Cup,” said the Croat after Danilo Asprilla’s first-half strike and Ismail Ahmed’s late header clinched the three points.
“We had very bad start in the Champions League, losing two games, our confidence and everything. It was a big problem.
“But the last four years, I have passed the group stage, three times at Al Ain. I saw my players in training the last seven days and they looked like a big team tonight.”
Asprilla came up with a big goal, scoring six minutes before half time, a fine run and finish after Omar Abdulrahman’s cunning through ball. To be fair, Al Ain should already have been in the lead, since they were in command for the majority and missed presentable chances through Douglas, Lee Myjung-joo and Abdulrahman.
The shot count continued to rise in the second half, but as Al Ain failed to convert, so too did the tension. That Saudi Arabia’s Al Ahli, third in the group and a point behind Al Ain, were beating El Jaish at the time did not help.
How the Garden City club could have done with Asamoah Gyan, their former 128-goal striker, who was in attendance on invite and watched from the stands.
Al Ain were nearly made to pay for their wastefulness on 76 minutes, when Bobur Abdukholikov’s curled effort came back off the crossbar as Nasaf made a rare foray into the hosts’ penalty area.
Then Ahmed headed home an Abdulrahman corner in the final minute and Al Ain marched into the knockout stages for a third successive year. Iran’s Zobahan form their next obstacle, beginning at home on May 18.
It was not perfect, but for now domestic disappointment has been consigned to the past. In its place, Al Ain can envision another sustained run on the continent.
Elsewhere, Al Jazira concluded a poor Asia campaign bottom of Group C, losing 3-0 to Pakhtakor in Uzbekistan, finishing the game with 10 men after Saeed Hizam’s red card.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport