Uncertainty is a new feeling for Omar Abdulrahman.
So long the prince of UAE football, he nonchalantly swept his way to success for club and country since a startling genius was revealed 10 years ago.
But this term, the playmaker’s crown has slipped. Permanently, some would fear.
This is why Al Ain’s impending double header against Qatar powerhouse Al Duhail in the 2018 AFC Champions League’s round of 16 signals a flag post in a career losing its lustre. Another offer of redemption on a grand stage cannot be spurned.
Amoory has been outcast by the UAE since misdemeanours before January’s wretched Gulf Cup final loss to Oman – a game in which he, critically, twice blinked from the penalty spot. He’s also been usurped from his throne at double-winners Al Ain by emerging Egypt spark Hussein El Shahat and the relentless brilliance of Sweden No9 Marcus Berg.
Even a rapidly expiring deal at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium has attracted no obvious suitors or fevered clamour to acquire a talent that previously beguiled the likes of Manchester City, Benfica and Nice. There is just an acceptance from employer and prodigal son that fresh terms will be inked.
The 26-year-old’s prime years are not running to an apparently pre-destined script.
Nagging injury and indifference from him detailed the Boss’ run to glory in the Arabian Gulf League. It featured just five goals and four assists from their resident superstar.
In preparations for the AFC Champions League 2018 Round of 16 First Leg match tomorrow, @alainfcae Final Training today at Khalifa Bin Zayed Stadium https://t.co/wW4Cw6M3Al #alainclub pic.twitter.com/0yTG4Nlkgf— Al Ain FC - EN (@alainfcae_en) May 7, 2018
In half a season, El Shahat notched seven times and set-up nine more.
When competition in the ACL runs white hot, Abdulrahman has not always responded in kind. Disappearing acts in the 2014 semi-finals and 2017 quarter-finals against boyhood club Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia are not forgotten.
Neither are his no-shows in both legs of 2016’s disheartening final loss to South Korea’s game Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.
Yet he was sublime two years ago in the last-four versus El Jaish – the outfit merged with Lekhwiya to form Duhail last April.
Abdulrahman was also untouchable in Thursday’s President’s Cup final victory against Al Wasl, teeing up both goals.
All hope is not lost about a mercurial talent without peer in Asia.
Monday’s rip-roaring round-of-16 opener saw young defender Khalifa Al Hammadi head in during the 96th minute to seal an enlivening 3-2 triumph against the 11-time Persian Gulf Pro League winners.
This followed a controversial 84th minute penalty, scored on the retake by visiting substitute Godwin Mensha to make it 2-2.
“The team showed a lot of energy and it was a good team effort, and a good win for us,” said Ten Cate.
“The winning goal was scored by one of our young players. I’m optimistic following this result.
“I’m sure we are going to score at least one away goal in the second leg. So, we’ll wait and see.
“It was an even match, but we were disappointed when we conceded the first goal from what appeared to be the first cross in the match.
“I’m not disputing the penalty. But, I’m confused why the linesman had his flag up when the referee was in a better position to judge what happened.”
Regrets were plentiful for ex-Al Wahda tactician Branko Ivankovic. His hopes of bettering last term’s run to the semi-finals are in the balance ahead of Monday’s return.
He said: “We made a few mistakes to concede three goals. Obviously, I’m very disappointed with the result.
“We need to win first. Of course, the two away goals will come in handy for us.”
Al Jazira’s season of chaos could yet deliver a historic finish.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi gained control of their rollercoaster first AFC Champions League knockout tie since 2014 thanks to youngster Khalifa Al Hammadi’s rousing headed winner deep, deep into second-half injury time against imposing Persian Gulf Pro League holders Persepolis.
The home bench erupted and Morocco playmaker Mbark Boussoufa slipped into the arms of coach Henk ten Cate in an explosion of emotion.
What a moment for the 19-year-old defender to break his career duck.
This was an incredible show of character from the hosts at Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium.
They first rebounded from one-cap Iran centre forward Ali Alipour’s deft headed opener just before the break.
Defiance was then required after the actions of Japanese referee Hiroyuki Kimura and his fellow officials appeared to wipe out a vital advantage.
UAE striker Ali Mabkhout – who else? – had provided the second-half catalyst.
With Jazira buoyant after recovering to take a 2-1 lead through the aforementioned UAE striker and Romarinho’s superb efforts, a controversial penalty call for handball with 10 minutes left from prone UAE prospect Mohammed Al Attas caused ructions.
Salt was thrown on open wounds when Ali Khaseif’s athletic spot-kick save from Godwin Mensha was ruled out for encroachment by the assistant referee. The aim of the substitute – who replaced Alipour – would not falter on a second occasion.
But past the five allocated minutes, Boussoufa swung in an unnerving set-piece from out wide to break the 2018’s edition meanest defence for a third time. Belief now abounds.
The small matter of escaping the lion’s den provided by the near 80,000-capacity Azadi Stadium awaits on Monday. Few leave Asia’s fiercest arena as victors, yet alone ones who’ve conceded two away goals.
But this patchwork Jazira matched European royalty Real Madrid for 81 minutes in December’s Club World Cup on home soil. They can exceed the fragmented sum of their parts.
Do so again and a landmark berth in the quarter-finals will see this group earn a special spot in the capital outfit’s annals.
A tense round-of-16, first leg of few chances appeared set for a damaging 1-0 reversal after 19-goal PGPL top scorer Alipour decisively nodded in a late first-half cross from Iran left winger Vahid Amiri.
Heads have gone down with frequency this term at the deposed Arabian Gulf League champions. No wonder when institutional tumult has followed at every turn.
But not this time.
How could they after Ten Cate’s impassioned “all or nothing” pre-match proclamation?
Shortly after the interval, Mabkhout skipped past a pair of Persepolis challenges and unflinchingly found the bottom corner to bring hope. This also extended the most-productive continental campaign of his celebrated career to five goals in six run-outs.
Even better followed.
A cute pass from Mabkhout was latched onto by onrushing Brazilian forward Romarinho. He calmly slotted past giant Iran goalkeeper Alireza Beiranvand.
A sting in the tail came when Oman centre-back Mohammed Al Musalami’s loose clearance struck the unaware Mohamed Al Attas’ arm. Mensha did the rest.
Yet, you cannot discount this Jazira. Just ask Al Hammadi.