In just 10 minutes of shocking second half chaos Al Ain conceded three goals, suffered a red card and were forced to watch in horror as their AFC Champions League hopes unravelled at the hands of ruthless Al Hilal who romped to an imposing 3-0 semi-final, first-leg lead.
The Boss were rattled from the start at the fervid 60,000-plus capacity King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, the woodwork saving them twice in the first half as Thiago Neves struck an over-hit corner and Nasser Al Shamrani flicked onto the post.
But there was to be no escape after the break for the travellers. Months of detailed pre-season work was undone from the hour-mark by a dishevelled defence now being breached with alarming regularity.
Livewire striker Al Shamrani struck a brace to end the night on nine ACL goals this term, while the crafty playmaker Neves recovered from a missed penalty, which saw goalkeeper Khalid Essa dismissed, to strike a killer blow with the third.
Al Ain have rebounded and recovered since coach Zlatko Dalic’s appointment in March.
But this was the return of nightmares for the Croatian, heading back to the club with whom he lifted the Crown Prince Cup last year.
Dalic must work miracles once more against opponents boasting eight-consecutive ACL clean sheets when the sides meet again at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday, September 30.
Quiet nights for star duo Omar Abdulrahman, who registered a 41 per cent pass completion, and Asamoah Gyan came at the worst possible time.
The Ghana international had the Boss’ only real chance in the match, this coming in the opening exchanges with a stinging shot from 25 yards.
Hilal seemed quicker, more alert. Their extra intensity saw cracks emerge in the final moments of the first half. A harrowing finale for Al Ain featured playmaker Neves being fortunate to strike the crossbar from a set-piece.
He then exhibited his true class to play a lightning one-two with Al Shamrani as the dog-legged Al Ain defence was circumvented, only for the far post to come to their rescue.
Few lessons were learned at the break.
Ismail Ahmed, usually a colossus for club and country, was clumsily bypassed outwide by Al Shamrani on the hour before the striker supplied a rocket of a finish from an acute angle that hammered in off the woodwork. Cool heads were no longer prevailing. Saudi Arabia’s Shamrani slid in on the line moments later, with worse to follow straight after kick-off as visiting goalkeeper Essa was dismissed after upending the on-rushing Nawaf Al Abed.
Replacement Dawoud Sulaiman heroically repelled Neves’ effort low to his right but this glimmer of hope was soon snuffed out, the seven-times capped Brazil international making the most of more mayhem to calmly slot in a decisive-looking third just 10 minutes after the capitulation has begun.
A truly rousing night, unlike any seen before at the still-glisteningly new Hazza, is now required. They have to bank on early goal eliciting similar self-destruction.
Al Ahli boss Cosmin Olaroiu was left worried about his players’ fitness and the fate of an injured Ciel after watching his side get their Arabian Gulf League title defence up and running with a 1-0 away victory over 10-man Sharjah.
An early strike from Ismail Al Hammadi gave Cosmin Olaroiu’s men the lead in a clash that saw Sharjah’s Shahin Abdulrahman receive a second booking in the opening minutes of the second half for a strong challenge on Ciel.
As a result of the challenge, Ciel had to be subbed off and was transferred to Rashid Hospital for an undisclosed injury that could keep him out of Ahli’s next game against Al Shabab.
“It’s strange that after we had a one-player advantage we relaxed and we missed I don’t know how many chances,” Olaroiu said after the win. “We made some mistakes and they could have scored.
“In this situation we should have acted like a big team and killed the game but anyway we got the three points.
“Sharjah is a very strong team and they showed that it will be difficult for any team to come and play in this stadium this season.
“Now I’m concerned about Ciel’s injury and some players who don’t seem to be in good shape. But I hope to solve this problem before the next game.”
Last season, Ahli had begun their campaign with seven consecutive wins and it was Sharjah who halted that streak, holding the Red Knights to a 1-1 draw at the Sharjah Stadium.
But the Kings could not spoil Ahli’s party this time.
In the 18th minute, Ciel fed Khalil in the box who in turn crossed it to Al Hammadi, whose powerful finish could not be kept out despite the best efforts of Sharjah stopper Mohammed Yousef.
The visitors could have doubled their lead in the 35th minute when Ciel flicked a dangerous low cross into the box but Khalil was off target, while Mirel Radoi fired a scorcher just wide three minutes later.
Sharjah’s first real attempt came four minutes from the break when Luan Louza unleashed from close range but Ahli custodian Ahmed Mahmoud “Dida” was there to make the block.
Things didn’t get any better for Paulo Bonamigo’s men in the second half as Shahin Abdulrahman received his marching orders four minutes from the restart after a poor challenge on Ciel, who had to be replaced by Grafite.
A solo effort from Wanderley in the final moments almost salvaged a point but his shot was wide, while the referee denied Grafite a late penalty.
Al Wahda brushed off concerns over their failure to strengthen over the summer to record an emphatic 5-0 victory over newly-promoted Kalba.
After last season’s sluggish start, the Clarets were able to paint Abu Dhabi red on Tuesday night by brushing aside a team who look set for a season of struggle.
Imposing striker Sebastian Tagliabue was the talisman last term, finishing second only to Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan in the goalscoring stakes, netting an impressive 26 times, but he was put in the shade by fellow Argentine Damian Diaz, who sparkled at the Al Nahyan Stadium.
Dominant Wahda had to wait until the 40th minute to break the deadlock, but man-of-the-match Diaz’s sweet strike was worth the wait as he volleyedthrough a sea of yellow shirts to find the bottom corner.
Taking the lead gave the hosts a clear boost and they doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time, the goal decked in sky blue as the two Argentines combined.
Diaz this time the provider, cutely feeding Tagliabue on the edge of the box and the prolific 29-year-old thundered an unstoppable rising drive into the top-right corner.
The home fans turned the second half into a party and their incessant team provided the entertainment.
Mohamed Al Shehhi made the points safe just before the hour mark, latching onto string-puller Diaz’s through ball to round Mohamed Othman and score.
Amer Omar was a menace down the flanks all night and he deservedly netted to make it 4-0 after Othman’s block spilled into his path.
Adil Hermach crowned Wahda’s five-star showing with the pick of the goals in the 88th minute, acrobatically volleying in from the edge of the box.
Clarets coach Jose Peseiro had attracted criticism in some circles for not being overly busy in the transfer market.
But on this showing, the Portuguese has plenty of reason to keep faith with a squad that rose from eighth to clinch a second-place finish after he took over in November 2013.
His side will have much sterner tests this season, but you can’t pick holes in an opening day triumph which bordered on flawless.