AFC Champions League: Al Ain forced to settle for draw

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Al Ain’s Mohanad Salem (2nd r) looks on as Al Ahli’s Mohammed Al Fatil heads the ball.

In a second-successive engaging clash between these perennial rivals, the Syria international looked to have gifted last year’s beaten finalists a valuable win via a clumsy handball which allowed AFC Player of the Year Omar Abdulrahman to slot home an apparently-decisive 85th-minute penalty.

Al Soma had already registered an incredible 36th goal in 31 games to level up UAE veteran Ismail Ahmed’s predatory opener. A loose clearance from another international centre-back Mohanad Salem was all he required to pounce again, smashing low into the corner with a swish of his left boot.

This came as a hammer blow to the Boss at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

The 2-2 draw, a third stalemate in four Group C games, means from outside the qualification spots they still have it all to do against Iran’s Zob Ahan and Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor if they are to grace the round of 16 for a fourth-successive year.

“Congratulations to my team for a good match,” said Al Ain boss Zoran Mamic. “We played 80-90 per cent of the game well.

“When somebody steals the three points, this is a disaster – I am very disappointed. We have to win the other two games to pass the group. It is that simple.”

In contrast, opposite number Christian Gross could not hide his satisfaction post-match.

“I think it is a good point for us, especially as we came back twice,” said the ex-Tottenham boss.

“Omar scored two fantastic goals. We need to prepare for a tough away game in Tashkent.”

Mamic’s men had started brightly against the Saudi Professional League holders and pool leaders, against whom they had registered another 2-2 draw last month.

In a role reversal, diminutive playmaker Omar Abdulrahman nodded across for towering defender Ismail Ahmed to poke home a fifth goal of a productive campaign.

This breakthrough should have acted as a spark. But instead, the lack of lethality and aggression up top which has dogged the Boss throughout 2016/17, re-emerged.

Al Ahli Jeddah managed to keep Omar Abdulrahman relatively quiet.

Ahli skipper Taisir Al Jassim was expertly blocked off by South Korea anchor man Lee Myung-joo, before Al Soma – arguably the Middle East’s finest centre forward – used his giant frame to force a leveller as dangerous winger Giannis Fetfatzidis’ corner was flicked on by Saudi Arabia centre-back Mohammed Al Fatil.

A hectic start to the second half saw the active Al Soma strike the base of the post from rampaging right-back Saeed Al Mowalad’s centre and winger Caio’s dangerous low shot call Saudi No1 Yasser Al Mosailem into action at the other end.

The momentum then steadily switch to the home side. A set-piece was to provide a breakthrough after substitute Yousif Ahmed had fluffed an instant chance, Ahmed Barman’s header from Caio’s corner being brushed by Al Soma’s hand.

This time, unlike the 2016 ACL showpiece loss to South Korea’s Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors, Amoory was to take control and score.

But Al Soma was not finished. His composure and caliber saw a loose ball from 20 yards skip past ‘keeper Khalid Essa in the dying embers and deal Al Ain a bitter blow.

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