Late Abdulrahman winner keeps Al Ain ACL hopes alive

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Al Ain registered their first points of this AFC Champions League campaign. [Credit: AFC]

In times of strife, how lucky Al Ain are to be able to turn to Omar Abdulrahman.

With the score goalless past the 70-minute mark, the Boss were running out of inspiration during a must-win match in Group D. Fail to claim the three points and the 2003 winners could only dream of reaching the knockout stages of the AFC Champions League after two painful opening losses.

Al Ahli Jeddah were obstinate opponents, worthy of their place atop the domestic Saudi rankings. Something special was required to breathe life into the Arabian Gulf League champions’ continental campaign.

The jewel of UAE football stepped up to provide it. As he always does.

The playmaker had served warning in the first-half with a free-kick which rattled the crossbar. Second time around, his aim was truer.

A deceiving effort from edge of box rattled in off the near post, sparking scenes of jubilation throughout the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. Ignition, at last.

The Boss’ kicked off as one of only two sides in the 32-team competition without a point to their name. The pair of defeats to Qatar’s El Jaish had given them their worst-ever start in Asia’s premier competition.

In Ahli, the opportunity to get back in the mix appeared a limited one. Their opponents top the Saudi Professional League, rebounding with a pair of victories after their 51-match unbeaten run ended late last month.

They had also not been defeated on UAE soil since 2008, winning three and drawing two matches.

With the stakes so high, a nervy start was to be expected.

As in the reversals to El Jaish, Al Ain controlled proceedings without being good enough in either box.

A set-piece looked the likeliest source of joy and Omar Abdulrahman thundered against the woodwork with goalkeeper Yasser Al Mosailem rooted to the spot.

UAE centre-backs Mohanad Salem and Ismail Ahmed were relishing the physical battle with star visitng striker Omar Al Somah.

But after the break, the Syrian appeared to be edging his way in front. An acrobatic volley after a Khalid Essa fumble hit the crossbar on the hour mark, while his shot into the side-netting caused panic.

The game appeared to be steadily slipping away from the hosts. In a scene reminiscent of his intervention in February’s triumph against Al Wahda, a set-piece was to provide salvation on 71 minutes after substitute Danilo Asprilla was felled.

Buoyed by the breakthrough, the Boss exerted control.

The final whistle saw relieved boss Zlatko Dalic pump the air and his players race to embrace their hero.

A turning point in Al Ain’s season had been reached.

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