A test of Al Ain’s acumen and ability awaits on Tuesday when they host Uzbekistan giants Bunyodkor (18:40) in a one-off play-off to make the 2020 AFC Champions League.
The UAE’s most-decorated club boast a rich history in the competition, with a plethora of clutch moments faced in the past. They’ll need to pass another one at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to avoid missing the competition proper for the first time since 2012.
Here are five critical matches played by the Boss since the inaugural 2002/03 edition – won by themselves:
OCTOBER 11, 2003
Final, second leg: BEC Tero Sasana (1) 1 v 0 (2) Al Ain
In the pantheon of UAE club footballing achievement, this match stands at the front.
The Boss had battled their way to the two-legged showpiece of the opening ACL. A comfortable 2-0 lead was, then, gained at their historic Tahnoun bin Mohamed Stadium thanks to on-rushing skipper Salem Jowhar’s long-range thunderbolt and Mohammed Omar’s back-post volley versus the 10-man Thais.
Defence was the key at the iconic Rajamangala Stadium. Therdsak Chaiman’s penalty on the hour mark gave the club, now known as Police Tero, hope, though they could not press home this moment and Al Ain were crowned continental kings.
This remains the nation’s only success.
NOVEMBER 5, 2005
Final, second leg: Al Ittihad (5) 4 v 2 (3) Al Ain
A painful memory for the Al Ain faithful.
Their second stab at Asian success ended with a comprehensive defeat at Jeddah’s Prince Abdullah Al Faisal Stadium. This final had been left delicately poised courtesy of a 1-1 draw in the Garden City; Monaco loanee Mohammed Kallon’s late spot-kick for the visitors levelling defender Ali Msarri’s scrambled opener from a corner.
The sheer weight of talent in the Saudi ranks would then tell in the return leg. Kallon smashed in a second-minute free-kick and legendary playmaker Mohammed Noor headed in the second from another set-piece after the half-hour mark.
Any enthusiasm from Shehab Ahmed’s penalty 55th-minute penalty for Al Ain was cancelled out by Cameroon attacker Joseph-Desire Job’s header – later sent off – a minute later. Full-back Ahmed Dokhi’s low finish soon after made Panama striker Luis Tejada’s injury-time goal mere consolation on a miserable night for the disconsolate Boss.
NOVEMBER 26, 2016
Final, second leg: Al Ain (2) 1 v 1 (3) Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors
A single moment can define a player, or even an era.
Zlatko Dalic’s three-year stint in the Garden City will forever be defined by Brazilian striker Douglas’s wayward penalty at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The South Korean giants were on the ropes at that point; countryman Lee Myung-joo’s half-volley cancelling out Han Kyo-won’s 30th-minute effort on the counter-attack.
Douglas’ skied spot-kick just before the break denied Al Ain the chance to level the tie at 2-2 – Leonardo’s brace had given Jeonbuk a 2-1 advantage, after Danilo Asprilla’s lovely opener. A cagey second half would follow and Al Ain would be denied a second ACL crown.
MAY 3, 2016
Group D, final match-week: Al Ain 2-0 Nasaf
Al Ain’s journey to the final almost got off to an abortive start.
Successive opening defeats to Qatar’s – now defunct – El Jaish put Dalic’s men at peril of a first group-stage elimination since 2013. A retort was required, and the now Croatia manager’s talented troops delivered.
Their double against Al Ahi Jeddah and 1-1 draw at Nasaf, though, could have been rendered nil by the wrong result at the Hazza. Colombian winger Asprilla’s driving run and low finish from an acute angle, plus UAE centre-back Ismail Ahmed’s towering 90th-minute header, would instead earn a relieving 2-0 triumph.
Progression to the knockouts was Al Ain’s.
AUGUST 19, 2014
Quarter-final, first leg: Al Ain 2-0 Al Ittihad
So many questions were present about this ‘new’ Al Ain.
Extensive cosmetic work in the transfer market witnessed the Boss utilise three foreigners not present in the round of 16/group stage; Lee, ex-Chelsea winger Miroslav Stoch and the recalled forward Jires Kembo Ekoko. But momentum was building under Dalic, who’d recently landed the President’s Cup.
Still, opposition who’d hurt the club so much in 2005 and that now boasted the likes of Roma loanee Marquinho looked daunting.
The Boss, however, would blow the Tigers away. Ismail Ahmed’s volley from Kembo Ekoko’s centre and Ghana superstar Asamoah’s expert trap and unnerving finish would earn a 2-0 first-leg lead that would transform into 5-1 overall victory.
Saudi Arabian opposition would not be as kind in the next round, Al Hilal dismissing them 4-2 in the last-four.
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