AFC Champions League: Depleted Al Ain enter Al Hilal lion's den and other talking points

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Complications abound when Saudi Professional League behemoth Al Hilal welcome UAE equivalents Al Ain to Riyadh in the 2019 AFC Champions League.

Uncomfortable ends to this term are ongoing, domestically, for clubs set to relinquish their top-flight crowns. The similarities, however, do not extend to continental competition.

Monday’s hosts at King Saud University Stadium are one victory away from escaping an exacting Group C, with a game to spare. In contrast, the winless – and severely depleted – Boss sit bottom and are already virtually eliminated.


A familiar face has not survived.

Croatian supremo Zoran Mamic departed the Garden City in late January for Hilal and oversaw March’s 1-0 win at his former employers. But humiliation on a historic scale to Al Taawoun in last month’s King’s Cup semi-finals necessitated an early dismissal.

Last Monday witnessed temporary replacement Pericles Chamusca lose his debut, 2-0 against the same opponent, and cede control of the SPL’s title race to loathed neighbours Al Nassr.

How the Brazilian will welcome Monday’s relative free-hit…


Al Ain are a car crash that keeps on skidding.

The highs of December’s runners-up spot at the Club World Cup now seem an illusion. Mamic’s successor, Juan Carlos Garrido, is enduring a seven-match winless run.

A heavy loss to guarantee group-stage elimination for the first time since 2013 seems inevitable. Even the return of disciplinary outcast Caio – a Brazilian forward seemingly bound for Benfica – offers little realistic hope.


The time has surely come to thrust Saudi Arabia artisan Abdullah Otayf back into the XI after injury.

The 26-year-old played both, dispiriting, second halves against Taawoun off the substitutes’ bench.

Al Ain, now, are an ideal opponent for him.

There is strength to test himself against in likely opposite numbers Ahmed Barman, Tongo Doumbia and Amer Abdulrahman. But not too much to risk confidence.

He’ll be a treasured asset for the knockouts, if handled correctly.

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