Dalic hopeful but rues missed opportunity

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Frustrated coach Zlatko Dalic bemoaned an opportunity lost as Al Ain let a lead slip in their opening 2016 AFC Champions League final defeat at Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, but is confident they can get the job done next week.

The 2002/03 winners went ahead on 63 minutes through Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla’s half volley, only for outstanding Brazilian attacker Leonardo to soon exert his class with a brace which gave the South Korean heavyweights a slim advantage heading into next Saturday’s decider at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

“I can be happy with the performance of my players tonight, but I cannot be satisfied with the result,” said a deflated Dalic, after a thrilling clash at a lively Jeonju World Cup Stadium. I’m convinced we didn’t deserve to lose the game, but we did enough for the second leg at home.

“We played against a very, very strong team who have big support from 40,000 people pushing their team forward. But it will be a big game at our home. When you play away and you score a goal and lose 2-1, you should be happy with this result, but we are not.

“But we have a chance – I have confidence in my players.” 2006 champions Jeonbuk exhibited their strength of character with a strong response to Asprilla’s hopeful attempt, in an entertaining match from which momentum swung from side to side.

Only China’s Guangzhou Evergrande have won the competition on away goals, when they triumphed against FC Seoul when this format was initiated three years ago. Green Warriors coach Choi Kang-hee was confident his charges would not suffer the same fate as their Korean rivals.

He said: “We have 90 minutes more, but we are in a good position to win the Champions League. Today’s result is not that important at all — we need to overcome the away match. All the players didn’t want to concede, however we’ll approach the second leg with the mentality to win.”

Dalic drew strength from the reaction of his players to the result, believing this evidenced a desire to add just a second continental crown in a week’s time.

“It will be a big fight there,” said the 50-year-old. “But I’m convinced, I’m sure, we will play a fantastic game because we fight to be champion.

“It will not be easy – it’s a competitive team, a compact team. But tonight I’m happy because I saw my players in the dressing room afterwards and they are very, very disappointed.

“They are very sad because they saw they could play this game, a close game, but they lost.”

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Jeonbuk 2-1 Al Ain: Five things we learned

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From a pragmatic perspective, Al Ain will take a 2-1 away loss. But it is tinged with frustration after they failed to keep a hold on Leonardo.

There can be similar feelings for Jeonbuk, who should have landed more blows in a dominant opening 30 minutes.

It is still all to play for when Al Ain and Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors clash again next week after an engrossing first leg of the 2016 AFC Champions League final.

AMOORY CAN’T DO IT ALL

Al Ain playmaker Omar Abdulrahman is a man of many talents. But the tiny playmaker cannot be expected to work wonders from aimless long balls.

This tactic was repeated in a frustrating first half, in which the striker-less 4-3-3 formation did not function. Target man Douglas must be restored to the starting line-up.

WATCH OUT FOR LEE

Centre midfielder  did his prospects of being the latest South Korean successfully exported to Europe no harm in this match.

The 24-year-old was key to Jeonbuk’s lively start, showing excellent  feet and killer acceleration. Although slight in building, his dynamism means a switch to the Bundesliga, for example, should be a successful one.

KAF’S NIGHT TO FORGET

Jeonju World Cup Stadium had been the subject of ire before this game, with its dilapidated exterior and worse pitch.

But it was Omani referee Ahmed al Kaf who was this game’s real villain. He was far too lenient in awarding bookings, while the mess he and his assistant made in not awarding Kim Bo-kyung’s first-half penalty was appalling.

GOOK IS STILL A GOOD ONE

Veteran striker Lee Dong-gook thrust himself straight into his coach’s plans for next week with a timeless cameo off the bench.

At 37-years old, his awareness of his team-mates saw a killer pass sprayed out to Leonardo for the opener. He could do even more from the start.

AL AIN HAVE REASON TO HOPE

Al Ain travelled to South Korea determined to keep the tie alive and Danilo Asprilla’s away goal ensured this mission was achieved.

The Boss also learned they can cope with Jeonbuk’s intensity, while landing strikes of their own. There is now no better time to end their struggles at home in this year’s edition.

 

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IN PICS: Jeonbuk see off Al Ain 2-1 in AFCCL final first-leg

Leonardo's double handed Jeonbuk the win.

JEONJU, South Korea — Al Ain’s hopes of landing a second-ever AFC Champions League title remain in the balance after Danilo Asprilla’s half volley handed them a precious away goal during a frantic 2-1 loss at Leonardo-inspired Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors.

A hectic opening clash at a raucous Jeonju World Cup Stadium between West and East Asia’s finest sides burst into life past the hour mark. Colombian winger Asprilla’s unconventional left-footed swinger sending the approximately 300 travelling supporters into raptures, before the 2006 winners struck back.

Brazilian forward Leonardo has been one of the stars of this edition and his seven-minute brace in response put the destination of the Asian crown back into doubt. He first curled an unstoppable shot into the top corner, before effortlessly stroking in from the penalty spot for a 10th goal in 13 2016 ACL games after UAE left-back Mohammed Fayez’s pull on South Korean striker Kim Shin-wook.

The Boss then held it together in a adrenaline-pumping finale to retain hopes of success during next Saturday’s decider at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

A match of this magnitude was given the introduction it deserved. Thousands of green flags shot up across the stands and ear-splitting noise erupted from the Jeonbuk ultras, with the pocket of ‘Ainawi’ taking over their corner of this creaking ground.

A fluorescent explosion of fireworks, which next weekend’s trophy presentation will struggle to match, at kick-off then stunned the senses and left a hue of smoke in the air long into the first half.

Both coaches went for mobility in their selections. Out went static No9 Douglas for the Boss and in came the striker-less 4-3-3 formation utilised in the away leg at Qatar’s El Jaish in the semi-finals.

For the hosts, diligent right-back Choi Chul-soon was moved up into defensive midfield and tasked with shadowing 2016 AFC Player of the Year-elect – and nominal ‘false nine’ – Omar Abdulrahman. Colossal target man Kim Shin-wook got the nod over veteran poacher Lee Dong-gook.

Jeonbuk had blown away big-city rivals FC Seoul in the opening leg of the last four and they tried to repeat the trick this time.

The hopes for the inaugural 2002/03 winners – who forced the first save through Ahmed’s early header – of avoiding this fate were aided by Omani referee Ahmed al Kaf. He declined to issue bookings for a series of momentum-sapping fouls, before he and his linesman were involved in a moment of controversy.

Defensive midfielder Ahmed Barman clumsily volleyed ex-Cardiff City playmaker Kim Bo-kyung up into the air just inside the penalty box. Play was waved on by the laissez-faire referee, before it was called back for a free-kick by his assistant much to the chagrin of the hosts.

Jeonbuk oozed confidence despite a chaotic run-up which included a nine-point deduction in the K League Classic for bribery and the subsequent loss of the crown to Seoul a fortnight ago.

But Al Ain held firm, imbued with belief by a run of just one defeat in their last 10 away trips in Asia’s premier club competition stretching back to March 2015.

They rode the storm until the interval, and nearly went ahead through as ‘Amoory’ flickered into life with a rasping shot which was pushed away by skipper Kwon Sun-tae – who played a decade ago as Kuwait’s Al Karamah were defeated to claim the club’s only ACL title.

An enthralling match then exploded into overdrive.

Erratic Colombian winger Asprilla produced a moment of inspiration on 63 minutes, a hopeful flick of his left boot arrowing into the top corner. The Al Ain players flocked to their joyous supporters, whose dreams of continental supremacy became enlivened.

A cavalry charge from the Green Warriors was inevitable. When it came, Brazilian left winger Leonardo wrought devastation.

He only required a metre of space to fire past helpless UAE goalkeeper Khalid Essa on 70 minutes, before he was calmness personified from 12 yards soon after.

Al Ain then had stand-in right-back Fawzi Fayez to thank, in what could be a pivotal moment in the tie, as he headed off the line at the death.

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