Al Ain suffer AFC Champions League elimination, but 'fighting spirit' pleases Juan Carlos Garrido

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Embattled coach Juan Carlos Garrido was encouraged by the belated show of “fighting spirit” from troubled Al Ain, even though a 2-0 loss at Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal guarantees a premature exit from the 2019 AFC Champions League.

Eager Green Falcons winger Hattan Bahebri ominously scored within 15 seconds on Monday evening for the big-spending hosts at King Saud University Stadium. A heavy defeat to compound the misery incurred in a – now – eight-match winless spell seemed inevitable, yet only veteran midfielder Mohammad Al Shalhoub was able to further get on the score sheet with a measured 90th-minute finish from the edge of the penalty box.

This result, with a fixture to spare, sent the hosts through as Group C winners, while eliminating the Boss from the opening phase for the first time in six years. Garrido, however, hoped the dogged display would act as encouragement to gatecrash the Arabian Gulf League’s top-three and secure their ticket for the 2020 continental tournament.

“We do not think about the outcome of any match,” said the 50-year-old. “Our focus was on the game and our goal was to get the three points.

“I was asking the players to show fighting spirit.

“The fact is that the team is going through conditions of decline in performance and has not been at its best for a while. But we are now required to think about our future fixtures and to reserve our AFC Champions League qualifying ticket for next season.”

Young winger Mohammed Khalfan impressed in spurts, but Al Ain struggled to truly threaten. This paucity of opportunity (the Boss had six attempts to Hilal’s 11) frustrated former Villarreal tactician Garrido.

He said: “The real analysis of football matches is always shortened by the final result.

“We suffered a quick goal from the opponent, but we were in the game in the second half.

“But we have not succeeded in translating chances into goals.

“When the easy chances are wasted, you will not be able to achieve any positive result. I cannot fail to congratulate Al Hilal on winning and qualifying for the knockout stages.”

Al Ain round out their ACL commitments with May 20’s dead rubber against Iran’s Esteghlal at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

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