Playing in your own stadium is supposed to provide comfort, but the Hazza bin Zayed is turning into an unhappy home for Al Ain.
A 1-1 second leg draw saw the Boss beaten 3-2 on aggregate in the AFC Champions League final the last time the tournament graced the Garden City in November.
And, despite UAE international centre-back Ismail Ahmed rescuing a point in their 2017 ACL opener last night, a sucker punch from Iranian visitors Zob Ahan leaves one of the continent’s biggest heavyweights still picking themselves up off the canvas.
It will have felt familiar to the Al Ain players. They were woeful in the competition’s opening group stage a year ago, losing two games and drawing one as they eventually scraped through to the knockout stages in second place.
Croatian former coach Zlatko Dalic turned things around dramatically though, and compatriot Goran Mamic will hope his team similarly improve as the competition progresses.
In fairness, the hosts will feel they did more than enough to win last night’s game, peppering the Zob goal in the first half.
“I’m not happy with the result. My team deserve victory, especially in the first half,” said Mamic.
“We weren’t on the same level in the second half but had a few very good chances and when you see that the opponent scores from one attack in 90 minutes you cannot be happy.
“We played very good football and controlled the game, but football is about goals and we didn’t score.”
Zob coach Mojtaba Hosseini admitted his side arrived in the UAE with a plan to defend, and it very nearly paid off.
“We had good concentration and mentality,” he said.
“We tried to be good defensively, then we had a plan to go to the counterattack. We did well but one mistake led to us conceding.
“We are pleased though with this result. I think this one point will be important for us.”
It was almost comical how the hosts failed to open the scoring in a first half where the visitors were mere passengers.
Wave after wave of purple-shirted attacks poured forward but each time they were repelled, with goalkeeper Mohammadrashid Mazaheri keeping out efforts from Omar and Mohamed Abdulrahman.
Even when he was beaten, the official came to Zob’s rescue. Ibrahim Diaky, deployed as an auxiliary striker perhaps due to the tepid displays of January acquisition Nasser Al Shamrani, stooped to head in after Mazaheri had brilliantly parried Caio’s ferocious volley, but he was flagged offside.
Conspicuous by their absence in an attacking sense in the first half, the Crocodiles snapped into life 17 minutes into the second, silencing the Hazza when they dared to take the lead.
They had created precious little beforehand but took the lead through Honduras international Jerry Bengtson. Midfield schemer Ehsan Pahlavan created some space in the box and fired a low shot that was beaten out by Khalid Essa.
The ball found its way back to Pahlavan though and he then fired across goal where 52-times capped Bengtson buried high into the net.
That was the cue for Al Ain to take it up a gear.
They flowed forward incessantly but the visitors stood firm. For all the genius of Omar Abdulrahman, it was a routine set-piece that finally undid Zob.
Former Bani Yas wideman Bandar Al Ahbabi swung in a corner and Ahmed rose high to power in the equaliser.
A winner never came though, Al Shamrani just off target from distance while Mazaheri came to the rescue at the death, scrambling across his goal to excellently keep out Ahmed’s header, which had looked destined for the corner.
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