Zoran Mamic bemoaned a lack of killer instinct that denied Al Ain the chance at an appearance in consecutive AFC Champions League finals.
The Boss were dumped out of the competition following a 3-0 second-leg rout in Riyadh by Al Hilal – although Mamic felt his side dominated the first half but were undone by wasted chances, while two rapid fire goals from the hosts just before the interval left them with a mountainous task.
“My team played the best football and dominated most of the game,” said the Croat, who saw defenders Tsukusa Shiotani and Mohamed Ahmed both waste good opportunities to open the scoring and silence the King Fahd International Stadium crowd.
“The team could not translate the opportunities they had into goals and if you cannot do that at this stage of the competition, then certainly you will not qualify for the semi-finals.”
Failure to strike an early blow and gain a precious away goal would prove catastrophic for the visiting team when lethal Brazilian playmaker Carlos Eduardo headed and volleyed in from Nicolas Milesi free-kicks within four minutes at the end of the first half.
Al Ain threw caution to the wind after the break and former Porto schemer Eduardo made sealed the Crescent’s passage into the last four by completing his hat-trick 16 minutes from time.
Al Ain were shorn of experienced UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem – sent off in the first leg in the Garden City three weeks ago, as well as fellow suspended defender Khaled Abdulrahman – but Mamic did not see their absences as significant factors.
“I do not think the absences were the cause of the loss, because the opposing team also has absences in their ranks,” said Mamic of Hilal, who were missing Saudi Arabia international Salman Al Faraj.
“The loss is clear and lies in not exploiting the chances that we had to score, in addition to our lack of focus in the second half.
“We did not show the required level in the second half of the game and did not succeed in the implementation of our duties.
“We lacked focus. Certainly, in the second half, we had no choice but to adopt an offensive style and we had to leave spaces in the field. This helped Hilal.”
The same scoreline at home in 2014’s semi-finals helped Hilal into the ACL final that year and coach Ramon Diaz revealed he had every confidence his side would get the job done at home.
“Al Hilal showed great desire to qualify and the team spirit in the game was high,” said the Argentine.
“My team was able to overcome all the circumstances and absences and I do not forget the important role played by the crowd in the match, as everyone contributed to achieve this strong result.”
Although former Paraguay coach Diaz hopes he can deliver his side into another final, he was hoping compatriots Al Ahli Jeddah could overcome Iran’s Persepolis in the other west Asia semi-final last night in order to ensure a Saudi team is guaranteed a final berth.
“I certainly hope to meet a Saudi team so that the Kingdom will have a seat in the Champions League final, so I hope Saudi Arabia qualify in the next phase of the competition,” he added.
Zoran Mamic has called on Al Ain to show their fighting spirit as they prepare to enter the lion’s den of Al Hilal’s King Fahd International Stadium looking for the result that will earn them an AFC Champions League semi-final berth.
The scores are evenly poised between two of Asia’s club heavyweights after a 0-0 draw at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium three weeks ago. It was advantage Al Ain after the game after the Boss had played for most of the second half down to 10 men following centre-back Mohanad Salem’s foolish sending-off.
Now Mamic’s men have to negotiate the cauldron-like atmosphere of Hilal’s stronghold in Riyadh – a stadium that holds an intimidating 68,752 fans.
“The game is one of the strongest football matches that Al Ain will have faced in recent years, especially since it combines two big teams,” said the Croat.
“We are required to provide a strong performance and show the spirit of fighting while also displaying high concentration and keeping possession of the ball and not giving any cheap opportunities to the opponents.
“Our goal in the last game was to win but it is not easy to get a positive result, especially after the red card. We will enter the second half of the tie and look forward to achieving a strong result that ensures our qualification for the semi-finals.”
With Salem suspended, fellow UAE defender Ismail Ahmed will come into the centre of defence. The veteran came on after Salem’s dismissal in the first leg, although he probably featured ahead of schedule following knee surgery in the summer.
Hilal coach Ramon Diaz, meanwhile, will be without midfield dynamo Salman Al Faraj, but is hoping the King Fahd International Stadium crowd will be in fine voice to provide a hostile atmosphere.
“We are fully ready for (the) match despite missing some players but we worked very well and have many solutions including the most important solution which is the Al Hilal fans,” the Argentine said.
Diaz began his press conference by praising the Saudi national team after their 1-0 victory the previous week against Japan, which earned them qualification to next year’s World Cup in Russia.
He added: “It will mean the participation of many players of Al Hilal, but the players have professional and good mentalities to forget the celebrations after this achievement and concentrate on the Asian competition with the club.”
Zoran Mamic has described striker Douglas as a “really strong character” after fighting back to prominence at Al Ain following his penalty miss which contributed to defeat in last year’s AFC Champions League final.
The 29-year-old blazed horribly over just before half time in the second-leg of the November’s ACL final after Danilo Asprilla had been scythed down – his miss led to a 1-1 draw at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium that night with South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, who went on to lift the ACL title with a 3-2 aggregate victory.
Douglas was deregistered by the club at the start of 2017 following a crisis of confidence in the wake of his critical miss and he featured in just seven more games during last season after that November 26 encounter.
He was expected to be jettisoned from the Garden City in the summer, but Mamic instead decided to keep him, along with fellow Brazilian Caio – who had a fine debut campaign – while adding another striker in Swede Marcus Berg and Japan defender Tsukasa Shiotani to the Boss’ ranks in the off-season.
Douglas started Al Ain’s goalless ACL quarter-final first leg draw with Al Hilal on Monday – nearly nine months to the day since his and the club’s final heartache.
He saw an effort harshly chalked off for offside in the first half while Hilal goalkeeper Abdullah Al Maiouf brilliantly denied him what would have been a deserved goal after the interval as he caught the eye.
And Mamic was delighted to see him welcomed back by an electric Hazza crowd.
“He was today one of the best Al Ain players on the pitch. He played very good and played for the team. I was really happy with him,” Mamic said of Douglas, who was substituted to rapturous applause four minutes from time.
“He is a very strong person to survive something like that. But this is football, this is life. Bigger players than Douglas have missed penalties and he feels support from the coaching staff, from the players and now also today, I saw the fans were very happy with him. He will be great for us.”
Asked post-match if the striker – who otherwise has a fine record of 27 goals in 47 games for the Boss – had withdrawn due to criticism following that penalty miss, Mamic said: “No, he’s not nervous.”
He added: “He’s quiet and he fights, he runs, he works hard. But you can kick him and he won’t comment. He is a really, really good character.”
Along with Douglas, compatriot Caio also impressed in the opening leg, and Mamic counts himself lucky to have both players under his command.
“I’m very lucky as a coach of this team as I have two Brazilians in Caio and Douglas, but they are not like normal Brazilians,” he said.
“They are not like Brazilians in mentality, they are professional like Germans, both of them, and I’m very happy with them.”