ACL pain follows domestic joy for Al Ain and other talking points from Esteghlal draw

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Omar Abdulrahman (r) trying to find a way through for Al Ain against Esteghlal in the 2018 AFC Champions League.

Al Ain’s 2018 AFC Champions League-campaign is yet to receive ignition after a rollercoaster 2-2 draw with their former coach Winfried Schafer’s Esteghlal.

The Persian Gulf Pro League-giants raced into the lead on 52 minutes when ex-Juventus and Internazionale forward Mame Thiam converted winger Farshid Esmaeili’s centre. Sweden centre forward Marcus Berg soon responded with a fine volley, before a double save by Hossein Hosseini denied him from the penalty spot.

Schafer’s troops raced up the other end and the same duo combined to make it 2-1. A ruinous Group D-defeat seemed likely, only for substitute Ahmed Khalil to calmly convert a penalty he contentiously won close to the 90-minute mark and make it three stalemates from three games.

Domestic joy, Asian pain

Al Ain should have charged into this match in the wake of a 6-2 dismantling of Al Wahda which has put them on course for Arabian Gulf League-glory.

Yet a change of competition led to a change of approach. An uncharacteristic reticence defined them.

An average of 10 points has been needed to claim second in their groups since 2013’s last failure. They now must be almost perfect, beginning with next Tuesday’s return.

Mamic’s new main man

Coach Zoran Mamic was again required to be tactically nimble.

The ex-Croatia international surprisingly loaded Al Ain with attackers for the preceding 2-2 draw with Qatar’s Al Rayyan. This time, his decision to take off recovering UAE centre midfielder Amer Abdulrahman and unleash emerging Egypt star Hussein El Shahat from his right-back berth spoke volumes.

The Boss no longer work around 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman. Little surprise after a staccato season.

El Shahat then set up Berg and won the first penalty. He is the Boss’ new centrepiece.

UAE misery continues

Judging purely on this year’s nascent ACL, you’d never know the UAE’s top flight has been ranked Asia’s best by the AFC since 2014.

From 12 group-stage matches, their entrants have won just one – Al Jazira’s opening triumph against Qatar’s Al Gharafa in Group A.

Al Wasl and Al Wahda are pointless, Jazira and Al Ain are struggling to fly the flag. They must step it up.

Zob Ahan 2-0 Al Wahda

A double from Zob Ahan forward Morteza Tabrizi ensured Al Wahda’s miserable 2018 AFC Champions League-campaign continued with a third-successive loss.

The Clarets conceded goals in both halves to the 2010 runners-up to remain bottom of Group B. Tabrizi headed the Persian Gulf Pro League-outfit ahead on 34 minutes after a lively start at Foolad Shahr Stadium.

The hosts then wrapped up the points in the 72nd minute when a combination of poor defending and flimsy goalkeeping allowed Tabrizi to get his third goal of 2018.

Sebastian Tagliabue (c) in action for Al Wahda at Zob Ahan (Twitter/@AlWahdaFCC).

Sebastian Tagliabue (c) in action for Al Wahda at Zob Ahan (Twitter/@AlWahdaFCC).

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