Al Ain will struggle to believe the manner in which they stumbled into the President’s Cup final.
The six-time winners were cruising towards next Sunday’s showpiece at Bani Yas’ expense as the clock moved into the 90th minute, second-half efforts from wingers Mohamed Abdulrahman and Danilo Asprilla masking a limp display.
But by the 92nd minute, embattled coach Zlatko Dalic was looking to the sky for salvation and substituted superstar Omar Abdulrahman could not hide his disgust.
A remarkable collapse was to blame, Algeria forward Ishak Belfodil and transfer-target Amer Abdulrahman securing extra-time with a 2-2 draw. It was left to South Korea centre midfielder Lee Myung-joo to turn saviour and earn a 3-2 win, calmly slotting in to avoid full meltdown ahead of Wednesday’s high-pressure showdown against Zob Ahan for a spot in the AFC Champions League quarter-finals.
On this evidence, revitalised Al Jazira will be confident they can claim silverware in a week at Zayed Sports City. These 120 seconds represented the lowest point of the malaise suffered by the UAE’s most-decorated club in 2016.
They have been steadily disintegrating since well before the loss of their Arabian Gulf League crown was assured during a toothless 1-0 defeat at eventual champions Al Ahli in early April. A club bereft of belief and desire is ambling towards a summer of change at all levels.
For Bani Yas, this should also not camouflage another season of underachievement. A squad boasting UAE metronome Amer Abdulrahman, Australia midfielder Mark Milligan and Argentine hot shot Joaquin Larrivey should have done much better than register a near-miss in the Emirates’ most-prestigious cup competition and ninth place in the top flight.
A lack of energy from both sides at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium during a dreary opening failed to hint at the drama to come. The Sky Blues were hanging in for a shot at a second President’s Cup, before their distant hopes looked to have ended by the 86th-minute mark.
Mohamed Abdulrahman’s optimistic drive from 35 yards was flapped in by stand-in goalkeeper Mohsen Al Hashimi just past the hour, before a jinking run and low drive from frustrating Colombian wide man Asprilla appeared to have sealed a shot at glory for Al Ain.
Unfathomable disaster then struck. Belfodil first skinned left-back Saeed Mosabeh to curl home his 13th strike during a solid debut campaign, before Amer Abdulrahman headed in a parry from Larrivey’s shot to send the club he is expected to join into crisis.
The excitement couldn’t be sustained during a low-key extra-time, during which Lee was played through by 17-goal striker Douglas on 112 minutes to save the Boss’ blushes with just his ninth goal in purple.
Jazira and Zob Ahan will surely not provide such second chances.