#360view: Al Ain have issues to address after final defeat

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It was a night to forget for Dalic and co.

Coach Zlatko Dalic was left to solemnly hang his head, while the tears fell down for distraught star man Omar Abdulrahman.

The final whistle signalled a crushing denouement to a long-held dream. With it, Al Ain’s hopes of repeating the lionised achievements of 2002/03’s vintage dissipated.

Now, the post mortem must begin into why South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are the club celebrating a second continental triumph rather than the inaugural winners. Little had separated East v West’s finest during two engrossing matches which should act as an advert for the burgeoning quality contained in Asian football.

Errors, however slight, have been made at all levels of the club which contributed to a slender 3-2 defeat on aggregate.

Unavoidably, the initial focus has to fall on Douglas. The striker is guaranteed to live in infamy after his woeful 41st-minute penalty sailed high into the travelling Jeonbuk support and killed the impressive momentum built up to that point.

The Brazilian wasn’t even trusted with a starting spot in the 2-1 first-leg deficit in South Korea, just like last month’s semi-final decider at Qatar’s El Jaish. This is telling for a club for who Ghana superstar – now Al Ahli loanee – Asamoah Gyan led the line with legendary distinction from 2011-15.

A return of 27 goals in 38 matches since last January’s switch from Japan’s Tokushima Vortis appears impressive. But he is no heir to his celebrated predecessor’s throne. His touch is too uncertain, while a lack of confidence has long bedevilled him. His 2016 ACL campaign is bookended by failures in clutch moments, with a missed penalty and appallingly-spurned open goal contributing to Al Ain’s opening 2-1 defeat to Jaish in Group D.

Just like erratic Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla, who to be fair put in his best Al Ain performance last night, he is not up to the standard of fellow foreign players Caio and Lee Myung-joo. The board’s failure to adequately reinvest the reported ¤20m (Dh81m) windfall which took Gyan to China’s Shanghai SIPG in July 2015 has been also been key.

Whispers throughout the summer centred on a seismic pursuit of Al Jazira and UAE danger man Ali Mabkhout. This would have been a fiendishly difficult deal to complete, yet the same things were said before Al Ahli wrenched coach Cosmin Olaroiu away from the Garden City three years ago.

Beyond a centre forward of true renown and a wide man to deliver with consistency, their approach to the local market also bears questioning. It is by pure luck rather than design that UAE centre-backs Ismail Ahmed and Mohanad Salem were not crocked along the way to the 2016 showpiece. There is simply no cover for them.

Finally, coach Dalic cannot go without inspection. The rehashed 4-3-3 formation with Omar Abdulrahman as a ‘false nine’ in South Korea was a disaster. Similarly, the critical penalty should have been handed to ‘Amoory’ rather than left to designated taker Douglas.

No doubt great things have been achieved getting to this point. To go one better next year, adjustments must be made.

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AFC Champions League Final: Jeonbuk Hyundai beat Al Ain

Matt Monaghan 26/11/2016
It was a devastating night for Al Ain.

The blow came from an unlikely source, the result most painful.

It was the boot of unmarked substitute Han Kyo-won which was to, so agonisingly, deny Al Ain a second AFC Champions League crown and gift this standing to South Korea’s resolute Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. With it, a 13-year wait to become continental kings was extended and a sinuous, taxing 10-month journey was brought to a devastating end.

The Boss rewarded a sold-out Hazza bin Zayed Stadium with a desperate push to reduce the 2-1 deficit from last weekend’s vivid first leg of the final. Midfielder Lee Myung-joo was to level on the night against his countrymen, but this is a game which is sure to be remembered by recalled striker Douglas’ egregious penalty miss when the Green Warriors were on the ropes.

The visitors would go on to heal the wounds of 2011’s showpiece loss to Qatar’s Al Sadd. For their vanquished opponent, the “nightmares” coach Choi Kang-hee spoke about a week ago are set to return after 2005’s loss to Saudi Arabia’s Al Ittihad was long forgotten.

Douglas’ reintroduction had looked like a smart move from coach Zlatko Dalic – who was to be dismissed in first half injury time. It freed star man Omar Abdulrahman from the ill-suited role of a false nine utilised at the creaking Jeonju World Cup Stadium.

In the opposition dugout, three-time ACL finalist, and now two-time winner, Choi brought in centre-back Cho Sung-hwan and striker Lee Dong-gook – players at a combined age of 71.

Typical grandstanding came before kick-off, a flag show carried out to classical music making this feel like a trip to the opera rather than Asia’s premier club football match. But the ceaseless entertainment from last weekend’s opening stanza was immediately reimposed.

Al Ain forward Caio claimed a push in the penalty area as he jumped over a deflected cross, while the early removal of flying fellow Brazilian Ricardo Lopes because of injury would prove fortuitous for the visitors. A foray forward against the run of play then caused a corner, shortly after Omar Abdulrahman had been lucky not to see red for a petulant stamp on man-marker Choi Chul-soon.

Rising South Korea star Lee Jae-sung swung it onto the foot of criminally-unmarked replacement Han to slot in. Cue pandemonium from the ‘Mad Green Boys’ who had made the journey west.

Al Ain could have crumbled but just like they did after incurring a pair of opening defeats in Group D, plus the salvage jobs on the road in both the round of 16 and quarter-finals, they responded.

Caio sent back in an unmarked corner and superb South Korea centre midfielder Lee’s volley rebounded off the ground and past countryman Kwon Sun-tae. A good time to score your first goal in 15 matches.

Redress then should have been theirs after centre-back Kim Hyung-il dallied in possession and tripped the lurking Danilo Asprilla inside the box. But in another misuse of ‘Amoory’, the ball was passed to Douglas, who blazed wildly over.

This felt like a huge moment, a critical blow in the bid to replicate the 2002/03 history makers’ feats and avoid a repeat of bitter rivals Al Ahli’s loss at this stage last year.

Whether fuelled with frustration by the miss or irked by a comment after the ball wasn’t sent out of play towards the end of the half, the usually-unflappable Dalic and Park Choong-kyun, from the

Jeonju staff, sparked a riot from which both were dismissed.

Omar Abdulrahman sought the ball with haste following the interval, desperate to gain continental glory before next week’s coronation as 2016 AFC Player of the Year.

Yet a telling contribution from the playmaker wasn’t to follow as the half flew by without incident.

The doomed Douglas stung Kwon’s fingertips from 20 yards and veteran replacement Ibrahim DIaky caused him to palm away. Try as they might though, the joy was to be Jeonbuk’s.

Images by Christopher Whiteoak.

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#360view: Immortality beckons for Amoory

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Gunning for glory: Omar Abdulrahman

For a player of whom so much is expected, Omar Abdulrahman was still able to cut his usual indifferent figure during Friday’s preamble for the 2016 AFC Champions League’s conclusion.

When you are touched by greatness, it seems such occasions can feel mundane. Yet with coach Zlatko Dalic to his right and the curiously-shaped trophy South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors are so eager to deny him on his left, he made clear with words just how vital it is that the current Boss squad prevail on Saturday evening.

The frizzy-haired and extravagantly-talented playmaker, dressed in a club polo shirt which showed off a suitably-expensive timepiece for a man of his status, declared to the media he was gearing up for the “game of my life”.

This is some statement when you consider the iconic displays delivered for the UAE at the 2012 Olympics and 2015’s run to third in the Asian Cup. Both the challenge of adding to the Boss’ storied history and his own individual pursuit of iconic status demanded such a billing.

Put simply, the maturing boy wonder of Emirati football is only one game away from joining his club’s Pantheon of seminal performers. Far beyond next Thursday’s procession to, surely, being named 2016 AFC Player of the Year, his legacy will be assured if a rousing comeback is engineered during the second leg of the final.

With a 2-1 deficit held from last week’s enthralling opener at Jeonju World Cup Stadium, another standout display is required by a superstar who has claimed an impressive eight man-of-the-match awards in 13 fixtures up to this point.

Individual gongs can never outweigh a pivotal role in a collective achievement, no matter the pomp and ceremony. This is the scenario for ‘Amoory’, whose long-lauded talent demands the validation ACL success will bring.

Salem Johar and Mohammad Omar are names spoken with a special reverence in the Garden City after their goal-scoring exploits in 2002/03’s solitary ACL success against Thailand’s BEC Tero Sasana. To join them, similar influence must be exerted on Saturday night.

A change to a 4-3-3 formation with Abdulrahman as the falsest of ‘false nines’ in the first leg left him isolated and hamstrung.

Against the run of play, superb feet in the corner under pressure from three markers allowed him to tee up Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla for the opener. But this was the standout moment.

The frustration from a night spent otherwise chasing aimless long balls from centre-back Ismail Ahmed was etched across his face as he trudged down the mixed zone post match. Such negative emotions have been rare during a calendar year which has seen him come of age.

Delivering with a consistency not witnessed since his breakthrough on a global stage in London and subsequent bravura 2012/13 season with the Boss, he has been without peer in Asia.

To make good on his preternatural abilities, his club must overcome South Korea’s finest – only a bribery scandal prevented a procession to the recent K League Classic. This will be no straightforward task. The Green Warriors are a perfectly-calibrated unit.

They possess selfless man-markers such as Choi Chul-soon who was Abdulrahman’s shadow last Saturday, while the Brazilian duo of Ricardo Lopes and two-goal Leonardo showed how devastating they can be when afforded the minimum of space.  Such opponents must be subjugated by the brilliance of ‘Amoory’ if epochal success is to be attained.

Without it, the impending gala ceremony in Abu Dhabi will feel hollow no matter his incredible performances throughout the preceding months.

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