AL AIN // Al Ain emerged 4-2 winners over Baniyas on Friday night, but not before some late drama at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Arabian Gulf League.
The champions looked as if they were heading for a comfortable win after racing to a 3-0 lead at half time, but Baniyas closed the gap to 3-2 before substitute Danilo Asprilla’s strike in added time took the hosts to safety.
Their joy as leaders was to only last a few hours though as Al Ahli staved off a late challenge from Al Shabab to regain top spot with a 2-1 victory at the Rashid Stadium in Dubai.
Ahli captain Ahmed Khalil scored a minute into the second half and Brazilian forward Ciel added the second in the 72 minute. Hassan Ibrahim got one back with seven minutes play left but Shabab could not find the equaliser.
In Al Ain, Brazilian forward Douglas scored twice and in-between set up Mohammed Abdulrahman for the hosts.
Fawaz Awana fired a stinging shot from 25 yards and substitute Suhail Al Noobi headed the second to raise the visitors hopes, but Asprilla’s strike sealed the game after both Lee Myung-joo and Abdulrahman’s efforts crashed against the post.
Baniyas goalkeeper Mohammed Khalaf punched out a corner that popped up and another weak clearance from Ishak Belfodil saw the ball tossed up again for Douglas to score a spectacular bicycle kick from inside the area.
An interception from the middle of the pitch followed by a through pass from Douglas saw Abdulrahman stab in the second for Al Ain to double the lead.
Douglas extended the lead with his second with a superb glancing header towards the far post on a right cross from Mohammed Ahmed Al Gharib for a 3-0 lead at half time.
Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic substituted Felipe Bastos, Omar Abdulrahman and Douglas in the second half and Baniyas managed to close the gap through Awana and Al Noobi.
Man of the match — Douglas (Al Ain)
He took the momentum of his hat-trick against Al Jazira forward with two goals and an assist in the first half to set the platform for Al Ain.
What they said
Zlatko Dalic, the Al Ain coach: "After a good first half the players thought they had already won the game. We were sluggish in the second half, particularly the defence, and allowed Baniyas back in the game. I thought they were already thinking of the next match in the Asian Champions League against Al Ahli [Saudi Arabia]. However, what mattered most is that we came out of this game with full points. It is important for us to keep winning all our remaining matches if we have to retain the league title."
When asked why he substituted Bastos, Omar Abdulrahman and Douglas early in the second half, Dalic said: “I took them off earlier than I would to preserve them for the next game against Al Ahli [on Wednesday].”
Luis Garcia, the Baniyas coach: "We allowed Al Ain to score from the three chances they got in the first half. But to come back from that situation and keep the game alive until the end against a team like Al Ain was a good effort, though. We can only keep working hard and do our best to finish as high as possible in the league race."
The National’s verdict
Despite the late drama Al Ain never looked like losing their grip on the game against Baniyas. Their win also keeps the pressure on Al Ahli as they are set to battle it out until the finish.
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