The Boss twice survived the hosts hitting the woodwork before carving out opportunities on the break through their threatening forward Caio.
However, following the second-half dismissal of captain Mohanad Salem for two bookable offences, Juan Carlos Garrido’s side went into survival mode.
Despite enduring a frustrating evening, the Arabian Gulf League’s most prolific marksman Sebastian Tagliabue headed home in the 87th minute to hand The Clarets a vital three points which saw them vault Al Ain into third spot.
But there remains hope for the visitors as they can still secure progression to the ACL through the qualifying rounds.
Caio, playing in what is likely his final game for the club before reportedly moving to Portuguese giants Benfica, was undoubtedly the brightest spot on an otherwise dismal night for The Boss, and so he is our Roger Dubuis Al Ain Player of the Day.
63% pass accuracy
1 yellow card
The home side were in the ascendancy for much of the clash as UAE icon and Wahda skipper Ismail Mattar pulled the strings from the No10 slot.
Yet Caio was a massive threat on the counter and he was Al Ain’s obvious out ball whenever they tried to release pressure.
The Brazilian would pull out left and right to receive the ball, draw defenders in before jinking past to create openings for his team-mates.
He did have chances of his own, but none were clear cut as he struggled to make any real connection. After the dismissal, he was brought off in the 83rd minute as Garrido tried to sure things up.
Dancing feet – The humidity is obviously a massive factor at this time of the year and so the pace of the game was noticeably slow. That was unless Caio was in possession. The 25-year-old danced his way across the pitch as he searched for openings, twisting and turning to unlock little gaps and that change of pace formed the fulcrum of Al Ain’s attack.
Conviction – He did have chances and with a little more conviction, Caio could have turned what admittedly were half openings into goals. He twice slalomed his way into a little pocket of space only to then fail to get any clean connection of his strike.
Individually, Caio can take away some positives from his display but it would have been a frustrating evening from a collective point of view with not much help around him.
Al Jazira are open to cashing in on UAE international Ali Mabkhout amid strong interest from Saudi Professional League giants Al Ittihad, according to reports.
Mabkhout, 28, has emerged as one of Asia’s premier strikers. He was leading marksmen at Asian Cup 2015 and sits fourth on the Arabian Gulf League’s all-time scorers list with 128 goals in 169 run-outs.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi have in the past rejected advances from European and Saudi outfits. This time, however, Abu Dhabi Sports have stated they will sell to an Ittihad eager to ensure their struggles of 2018/19 are not repeated – if the price is right.
This stance follows tweets from respected commentator Amer Abdulla.
“I have received a lot of inquiries about the subject of the transfer of the star Ali Mabkhout to the Saudi club,” he posted.
“As I have confirmed, a telephone call was made by a member of the Ittihad board to an official at Al Jazira.
“It showed a desire to contract with Mabkhout. They were asked to make a formal offer and in principle, [Jazira] do not mind if the offer is fit for a big star.”
Big-spending Ittihad looked bound for a first relegation in their 92-year history, until a late resurgence under returning boss Jose Luis Sierra saw them finish 10th in the SPL.
They are now looking to revamp a lavishly assembled squad that critically underperformed for much of the previous campaign.
Links to Jazira were strengthened last summer when they landed Brazilian forward Romarinho from them for €7m.
Mabkhout will depart as a legend of UAE football, if the move goes through. His current tally of 19 goals in 18 AGL appearances puts him joint-second in the 2018/19 scoring list.
It would also represent the second-successive summer that an elite Emirati talent was lost to the Kingdom. 2016 AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman exited Al Ain and joined Al Hilal on a controversial free transfer in August.
Eliminated and deflated Al Ain intend to make “a good impression” when they wind up their 2019 AFC Champions League commitments in Monday’s dead rubber against Iran’s Esteghlal.
A miserable contest awaits at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Both sides have conceded their domestic titles in recent weeks, plus cannot proceed from Group C’s final round in the continental competition.
For the hosts, this is the first time they’ve failed to advance into the knockouts in six years. Coach Juan Carlos Garrido, however, insisted there was still something to play for during their last run-out of an unfulfilling campaign.
“Despite the fact that the team is out of the competition as one of two qualifiers for the round of 16, it is a good opportunity for some to leave a good impression,” said the ex-Villarreal tactician, whose short-term deal in the Garden City imminently expires.
“We are required to show fighting spirit and achieve a strong result at the end of our Asian games.
“The truth is that our next game is very important for the reasons I have mentioned before, so we will work to show our best. We will adopt the best methods to appear well at the end of our Champions League matches.”
The sides played out a 1-1 draw in Tehran during March, meaning victory on home soil for the beaten 2016 finalists will at least save them the indignity of finishing last.
There is also a familiar face in the Esteghlal ranks, which will painfully remind Al Ain of better times. Coach Farhad Majidi played an influential role in the Boss’ 2002/03 ACL success, scoring in the semi-finals against China’s Dalian Shide en route to glory.
Al Ain’s current No9, Marcus Berg, has not been able to deliver such joy in a poor second season. The out-of-sorts Sweden marksman has notched just once in his last 19 matches for club and country.
“Every team is looking forward to the three points, especially for us, because we are going to play the last game at home,” said Berg, who is expected to be replaced by Al Taawoun’s Leandre Tawamba in the summer. “We would like to leave a good impression with the conclusion of our matches at home and we will work to appear in a dignified way.”
Al Ain travel to Al Wahda on Saturday for their final top-flight fixture. Victory will salvage 2020 ACL qualification from a sorry season.