Al Ain roared into the AFC Champions League’s knockout stages for a fifth-successive year after they thrashed Al Rayyan 4-1 in their qualification shootout.
The sides met at Doha’s Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in the knowledge that only victory would send the hosts through at the expense of the Arabian Gulf League’s champions-elect when Group D reached its crescendo.
This scenario caused no problems for the visitors, whose recovery from drawing their opening four matches is now complete. Goals from Hussein El Shahat, Omar Abdulrahman and Marcus Berg (2) followed, before Qatar veteran striker Sebastian Soria struck a late consolation during a surprisingly one-sided contest.
With pool winners Esteghlal of Iran also defeating eliminated 2017 runners-up Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia 1-0 on Monday, these results guaranteed second spot for the Boss.
They now face the daunting task in next month’s round of 16 of meeting runaway 2017/18 QNB Stars League victors Al Duhail, who are aiming to complete a complete set of six Group B-triumphs when they welcome Al Wahda on Tuesday.
Bookings in Qatar for UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and Egypt midfielder El Shahat mean they will miss May 8’s opener at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium when Asia’s premier competition resumes.
Al Ain got off to the perfect start when Brazilian forward Caio’s shot at the end of a driving run was spilled to El Shahat. He effortlessly slotted in a 10th goal in 17 appearances since his January switch from Misr Lel-Makkasa.
Even better was to follow just before the hour mark.
Amoory rocketed in a stunning free-kick to double the advantage and Sweden No9 Berg produced a nerveless low strike from Japan utility man Tsukasa Shiotani’s smart centre.
The Sweden No9 then moved onto 27 goals from 29 games in his debut campaign with another sharp finish, prior to Soria’s immaterial tap-in during the final throes.
AL WASL 1-2 NASAF
Al Wasl guaranteed they would be the only team in the 2018 AFC Champions League to lose all six pool matches when Nasaf fought back from a goal down to defeat them in Dubai.
The Cheetahs gained hope of salvaging some pride from Group C when Brazilian forward Fabio De Lima converted Khalil Khamis’ cross.
But the game was taken away from them either side of half-time at Zabeel Stadium. Sharof Mukhitdinov equalised with a thunderous half-volley, before Bobir Abdixolikov slotted home after an excellent solo run and sharp finish from 20 yards.
Al Ain will stick to their guns and utilise the usual “aggressive approach” when they travel to Al Rayyan, despite knowing only defeat will see the Qataris deny them hard-earned progression to the AFC Champions League’s knockout stages for a fifth-successive edition.
The Arabian Gulf League’s champions-elect drew their opening four matches in Group D – including February’s entertaining 1-1 draw with Michael Laudrup’s men at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium – to leave progression up in the air. This was prior to April 2’s rollercoaster 2-1 win against Saudi Arabia nemesis Al Hilal that allowed them come into Monday’s shootout at Jassim bin Hamad Stadium with a critical one-point advantage.
“I respect the ambitions of the opposing team, but I have great confidence in my team,” said coach Zoran Mamic, who will be without banned UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed and utility midfielder Mohamed Abdulrahman.
“We look forward to a strong and honourable performance that will enable us to achieve the desired result and qualify for the Champions League knockouts.
“It is very difficult to predict what will happen in the world of football, but I would like to assure you that Al Ain always adopts an aggressive approach against all its rivals.”
Rayyan sit a distant third in the QNB Stars League. They defeated Al Ahli Doha 4-1 last week, but this victory came at a cost with 28-goal Morocco marksman Abderrazak Hamdallah coming off in just the 13th minute through injury.
Opposing hot shot Marcus Berg of Sweden demanded his club side show no mercy.
He said: “We are motivated to play and we look forward to putting in a strong performance in which we show our character in front of their supporters and announce our qualification for the next phase of the AFC Champions League.”
AL WASL V NASAF
Deflated Al Wasl have been told pride is on the line when they attempt to avoid becoming the only side to lose all six pool games in the 2018 AFC Champions League.
Rodolfo Arruabarrena’s men have flopped badly upon their return to Asia’s top table after a decade away. Their last Group C match on Monday sees them host fellow eliminated side Nasaf of Uzbekistan.
“My relationship with the players is strong, but they know what makes me happy is fighting on the field,” said the ex-Argentina full-back.
The Pro League Committee has announced the preliminary shortlist of nominees for six Arabian Gulf League Awards categories. Voting for the nominees starts on Sunday, April 15, and closes on April 22.
A three-man shortlist based on the voting will be announced on April 23 and the winners will be announced at the Arabian Gulf League Awards ceremony on May 10.
Voting for the six categories will be available through the website www.awards.agleague.ae with participation of football experts, club captains and coaches, media and fans to select five nominees from each category.
The preliminary shortlist for the Golden Ball Award (Best Emirati Player) includes Ali Mabkhout (Al Jazira); Rayan Yaslam, Omar Abdulrahman, Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem (Al Ain); Ahmed Al Yassi, Khalifa Mubarak and Mahmoud Khamis (Al Nasr); Mohammed Marzooq (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club) and Salem Al Azizi (Al Wasl).
Competing for the Golden Ball Award (Best Foreign Player) are Marcus Berg and Caio (Al Ain); Fabio De Lima and Caio Canedo (Al Wasl); Sebastian Tagliabue, Mourad Batna, Balazs Dzsudzsak and Rim Chang-woo (Al Wahda); Marcelo Cirino (Al Nasr) and Romarinho (Al Jazira).
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague) April 14, 2018
The shortlist for the Leader Award (Best Coach) includes: Zoran Mamic (Al Ain), Laurentiu Reghecampf (Al Wahda), Rodolfo Arruabarrena (Al Wasl), Abdulaziz Al Anbari (Sharjah) and Henk ten Cate (Al Jazira).
The Golden Boy Award (Best Young Player, born in or after 1997) is contested between Mohammed Al Shamsi, Khaled Ibrahim, Ahmed Al Akbari and Ahmed Rashid (Al Wahda); Jassem Yaqoob (Al Nasr); Mohammed Al Attas and Zayed Al Ameri (Al Jazira); Omar Saeed (Hatta); Ali Saleh (Al Wasl) and Majed Suroor (Sharjah).
Finally, five goalkeepers compete for the Golden Glove Award, including Khalid Essa (Al Ain), Mohammed Al Shamsi (Al Wahda), Majed Nasser (Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club), Ahmed Shambieh (Al Nasr) and Fahad Al Dhanhani (Dibba Al Fujairah).
The nominees for these five categories were selected based on statistics by Sportradar, the statistics partner of the Pro League Committee. Player performances were evaluated based on specific criteria including position, goals scored, passing accuracy, assists, saves and fair play (disciplinary record).
The nominees for the Fans’ Player of the Year Award were chosen based on fans nominations in the first stage that lasted between April 8-12, where fans of the various AGL sides supported their favourite players through the PLC’s official social media pages.
المرشحون لجائزة الفتى الذهبي
— Arabian Gulf League (@AGLeague) April 14, 2018
Ten players nominated in this category were Hussein El Shahat, Omar Abdulrahman and Marcus Berg (Al Ain); Mbark Boussoufa (Al Jazira); Fabio De Lima (Al Wasl); Mohammed Al Shamsi, Mourad Batna and Sebastian Tagliabue (Al Wahda); Yasseen Mahmoud (Dibba) and Youssef Kalfa (Emirates Club).
The Arabian Gulf League Awards are divided into two sections; the vote-based awards which include the aforementioned six categories, and the stats-based awards which include the Dream Team – the Best XI of players who excelled in their positions, the Golden Shoe Award for the AGL top goalscorer, the Silver Shoe Award for the Arabian Gulf Reserve League top goalscorer, the AGL Fantasy Manager of the Season, the Club Licensing Award and the Online Content Award.