Coach Zlatko Dalic was left to solemnly hang his head, while the tears fell down for distraught star man Omar Abdulrahman.
The final whistle signalled a crushing denouement to a long-held dream. With it, Al Ain’s hopes of repeating the lionised achievements of 2002/03’s vintage dissipated.
Now, the post mortem must begin into why South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are the club celebrating a second continental triumph rather than the inaugural winners. Little had separated East v West’s finest during two engrossing matches which should act as an advert for the burgeoning quality contained in Asian football.
Errors, however slight, have been made at all levels of the club which contributed to a slender 3-2 defeat on aggregate.
Unavoidably, the initial focus has to fall on Douglas. The striker is guaranteed to live in infamy after his woeful 41st-minute penalty sailed high into the travelling Jeonbuk support and killed the impressive momentum built up to that point.
The Brazilian wasn’t even trusted with a starting spot in the 2-1 first-leg deficit in South Korea, just like last month’s semi-final decider at Qatar’s El Jaish. This is telling for a club for who Ghana superstar – now Al Ahli loanee – Asamoah Gyan led the line with legendary distinction from 2011-15.
A return of 27 goals in 38 matches since last January’s switch from Japan’s Tokushima Vortis appears impressive. But he is no heir to his celebrated predecessor’s throne. His touch is too uncertain, while a lack of confidence has long bedevilled him. His 2016 ACL campaign is bookended by failures in clutch moments, with a missed penalty and appallingly-spurned open goal contributing to Al Ain’s opening 2-1 defeat to Jaish in Group D.
Just like erratic Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla, who to be fair put in his best Al Ain performance last night, he is not up to the standard of fellow foreign players Caio and Lee Myung-joo. The board’s failure to adequately reinvest the reported ¤20m (Dh81m) windfall which took Gyan to China’s Shanghai SIPG in July 2015 has been also been key.
Whispers throughout the summer centred on a seismic pursuit of Al Jazira and UAE danger man Ali Mabkhout. This would have been a fiendishly difficult deal to complete, yet the same things were said before Al Ahli wrenched coach Cosmin Olaroiu away from the Garden City three years ago.
Beyond a centre forward of true renown and a wide man to deliver with consistency, their approach to the local market also bears questioning. It is by pure luck rather than design that UAE centre-backs Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem were not crocked along the way to the 2016 showpiece. There is simply no cover for them.
Finally, coach Dalic cannot go without inspection. The rehashed 4-3-3 formation with Omar Abdulrahman as a ‘false nine’ in South Korea was a disaster. Similarly, the critical penalty should have been handed to ‘Amoory’ rather than left to designated taker Douglas.
No doubt great things have been achieved getting to this point. To go one better next year, adjustments must be made.