Al Ain travel to Doha in search a landmark final spot in the AFC Champions League. The Garden City have already beaten their Qatari opponents in the first leg, who will most likely go all out and cause an upset for the Emirati club.
Sport360 summarises all the major talking points ahead of Tuesday night’s fixture.
AMOORY’S TIME TO SHINE
UAE football’s resident superstar performed poorly once again upon his return to Saudi Arabia last week. Omar Abdulrahman had been at his mesmerising best for Al Ain previously. A repeat of his goal and assist from the opening leg would kill the tie.
WILL THE REAL RASHIDOV EMERGE?
There is definitely something of the Cristiano Ronaldo about the tall Uzbekistan forward. Yet all too often, he looks like the ‘CR7’ who fumbled through his formative years at Manchester United. A show of his undoubted class would be very well timed for El Jaish this evening.
DALIC’S DATE WITH DESTINY
Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic has a real affinity with the AFC Champions League. and he highlighted this stellar record yesterday. His standing in the Garden City has so often been tied to the club’s success, or lack of it, since his 2014 arrival. Now he must stake a claim for the continental crown.
The previous meeting between these clubs in Doha featured a rare off night for Al Ain in the ACL. They were well beaten in March despite the tight-looking 2-1 scoreline. That Group D result must act as a guide to them now. If they underperform once again, the Soldiers will surely strike.
PUTTING REINS ON ROMARINHO
Dreadlocked forward Romarinho has been a nuisance to Al Ain in all three meetings this year. His low centre of gravity and smart footwork provides an uncomfortable challenge for hulking centre-backs Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem, who must be diligent.
Al Ain’s chastened UAE contingent cannot afford to fail another test of character when they fight for a spot in the 2016 AFC Champions League final this evening.
Omar Abdulrahman and five other celebrated team-mates flopped, badly, last week as a late surge saw Saudi Arabia inflict a damaging 3-0 defeat. This was a bruising result which confirmed long-held suspicions that the mentality of the ‘Golden Generation’ does not match their unquestionable talent.
The humbling loss has put the nation’s hopes of making World Cup 2018 under threat, but at least they can find solace in the fact the third-and-final round of qualifying has not even reached the half-way stage yet.
There is no such safety net in Doha for the decider against El Jaish – a club who beat them twice in Group D.
Stumble again and hopes of returning to Asia’s grandest stage for the first time in 11 years will be gone.
With the perenially-strong Saudi clubs uncharacterstically bombing out by the round of 16 and a disastrous 2014/15 seeing bitter rivals Al Ahli fail to even make the competition, this is a glorious chance of the kind which may not come around again for several years.
A 3-1 first-leg lead means the Boss’ international stars return to club duty with the odds stacked in their favour.
Such a healthy advantage – gained through exciting forward Caio’s fortunate goal late on at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium last month – means a 2-0 loss or worse is required to see the hosts celebrate, without even counting the very-real prospect of an away goal being scored.
But how will they cope if dangerous Brazilian attacker Romarinho plunders early on, or ex-Barcelona, Valencia and Roma veteran Seydou Keita uses all his wiles to give the Soldiers belief?
A healthy lead then becomes a millstone round their necks, the knowledge they are potentially just one shot away from an ignominous exit ramping up the tension.
Worryingly for coach Zlatko Dalic, his troops possess previous for blowing up in such a scenario.
In last year’s edition, Al Ain were 1-0 up with only 45 minutes left of their round-of-16 clash with Ahli. They would go on to draw 3-3 and embarrasingly drop out on away goals.
Similarly in 2014, a 3-0 first leg battering by Al Hilal in the last-four rendered the tie unwinnable.
For all the goodwill generated with the run to third in the 2015 Asian Cup or last month’s incredible 2-1 victory in Japan, the national team’s most-pressurised clashes have come across the border in Saudi. Troublingly, this group has regularly cracked in the Kingdom.
A fightback from 2-0 down in the 2014 Gulf Cup semi-finals ended in a frustrating 3-2 reversal, with a 2-1 loss in the second round of World Cup 2018 qualifying was also incurred when Abdulrahman gave away a senseless penalty at the death.
Reputrations were further impined by the most-recent thrashing. Those same players must show a burning desire to gain redress this evening, rather than wallow in the humiliation.
Superior fortitude will need to be on show at Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium. Leaders like veteran centre-back Ismail Ahmed must stand tall, while the addition of anchorman Ahmed Barman to the midfield could add necessary strength.
Al Ain have not been this close to the final in more than a decade. Wasting this opportuniy would be unforgivable.
From the Panenka to the Calvente, footballers have taken the simple concept behind the penalty-kick and added their own unique flair.
The latest entry is submitted by Syafiq Sazali, a self-confessed freestyler in Singapore’s FA Cup.
His side, the Yishun Sentek Mariners, were already enjoying a comfortable 4-0 lead before the man of the hour decided to take matters into his own hands with a nerveless acrobatic strike from the spot.
Would you try this out the next time you step onto the pitch?