But these words became platitudes on Wednesday night as the Qatari side began their 2016 AFC Champions League by inflicting a humbling 2-1 defeat at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
The Arabian Gulf League champions lacked intensity at both ends of the pitch. The lively visiting attacking trio of Sardor Rashidov, Abderrazak Hamdallah and Romarinho cut through a nervy defence with impunity, the latter pair both getting on the scoresheet.
A slew of chances went begging, January-buy Douglas legitimately scoring one of three penalties in a woeful display in front of goal. The quest to replace club legend Asamoah Gyan appears no closer to an end, during a week in which original replacement Emmanuel Emenike struck an FA Cup-double for West Ham United.
Victory in Wednesday’s reverse fixture is now a must for the Boss, if they are to escape Group D which also contains redoubtable Saudi Arabians Al Ahli Jeddah and Uzbekistan Cup holders Nasaf.
This was also the second error-strewn loss in a row, the setback to Al Shabab seeing them usurped at the head of the top-flight standings by Al Ahli. Coach Zlatko Dalic must find an answer to their ails.
Al Ain’s hopes of bettering last year’s painful round-of-16 exit to bitter rivals Ahli got off to the worst possible start as Morocco’s bull of a centre forward Hamdallah tapped in the excellent Rashidov’s ninth-minute cross to put the third-placed Qatar Stars League also-rans ahead.
Dalic’s side then pressed for a leveller which never came, Qatari midfielder Othman Al Yahri heading against his own crossbar the closest they came before disaster struck prior to the break.
UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem endured a torrid evening, his impetuous charge forward allowing Brazilian magician Romarinho all the space to dink home a ruthless second. There was still time for a lifeline to be spurned, J1 League second top scorer Douglas heading straight at gargantuan goalkeeper Khalifa Abo Baker.
Hope remained after the restart as former France midfielder Lamouchi’s charges retreated deeper and deeper.
Japanese referee Minuro Tojo then came to the fore. Unusually-quiet Brazilian centre midfielder Fellipe Bastos was tripped by Al Yahri inside the box for a clear penalty.
Douglas steppd up and hammered home his first effort, only for the encroaching players to force a retake which was palmed away by Abo Baker.
A second spot-kick was awarded soon after as spinning South Korea midfielder Lee Myung-joo was nudged over by midfielder Khalid Abdulraouf. Douglas made no mistake for his third goal in six appearances.
The Brazilian was soon to be recast as the villain as he spurned another glaring shot at redemption, ballooning over an absolute sitter from six yards as his team-mates were booed off after a disastrous opener.
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