It marks the first time that the Boss have failed to emerge from the group stage in six years – ending their campaign on two points.
They did at least go down fighting though, with goalkeeper Khalid Essa particularly impressive. We take a look at the UAE shotstopper’s evening.
Buoyed by their recent 5-1 Arabian Gulf League thrashing of Al Wasl at home, the Boss – who took a giant step towards qualifying for next year’s ACL with that victory – started confidently at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
They took the lead when impressive Bandar Al Ahbabi slipped in Marcus Berg, the Swede finishing with aplomb as he fired through Seyed Hosseini’s legs to make it 1-0 after 13 minutes, a first goal in seven games.
The lead lasted just nine minutes though, Mohammad Daneshgar leaping to head in Vouria Ghafouri’s corner. The away side got their noses in front in first half stoppage time when Morteza Tabrizi finished off a flowing passing move.
Both sides pushed for more goals in the second half but Esteghlal maintained their lead, with excellent Essa keeping the visitors at bay.
Got right – Keeping his side in it
The 29-year-old is the UAE’s No1 for reason. The Whites have deployed a number of custodians between the sticks in recent years, but Essa has been the most consistent of them all.
He could do little to prevent either of Esteghlal’s goals – a towering free header from Daneshgar and a sweetly-struck effort from Tabrizi – but what he could do, he was excellent.
He dived athletically to his left to palm away South African midfielder Ayanda Patosi’s penalty and made crucial late interventions to deny the visitors making the scoreline more emphatic.
Got wrong – Unnecessarily flash
There are plenty of talented stoppers in UAE football, but they have a tendency to try and capture the spectacular rather than play it safe. Essa is an adept catcher of the ball and a puncher, when required.
But there was an uncomfortable moment in the first half when he came to collect a cross and took to the air like Superman to clear it when he could have gathered easily.
Al Ain fans also had hearts in mouths when a sliced clearance from one of his own players could have been collected – yet he chose to chest the ball down and play out from the back. Essa was calmness personified and it looked stylish – but it was unnecessary.
A fine shot-stopper who is agile and comes confidently to claim crosses and provides a vocal presence, Essa has been a rock for the Boss for many years. But, in a season in which there has been very little to celebrate, the Al Jazira youth product’s qualities have shone through even more – because he’s been called on to bail his side out much more than previous years.
It mattered little here with his side already out, but Essa was excellent and his unrelenting thirst to keep Esteghlal at bay meant his side were always in the game.
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