Al Ain came from a goal down to beat Arabian Gulf League champions Al Ahli and progress to the quarter-finals of the President’s Cup.
Zlatko Dalic’s men were behind to Ahmed Khalil’s penalty with 12 minutes remaining before the game’s second spot kick turned the game in their favour, man-of-the-match Omar Abdulrahman equalising.
Boss veteran Ibrahim Diaky pounced to net the winner seven minutes into the first half of extra time to maintain Al Ain’s impressive start to the season, with the Garden City side the only unbeaten side in the Arabian Gulf League.
Dalic’s men have lost twice and failed to qualify for the Arabian Gulf Cup semi-finals, but they will now march on into the last eight aiming to avenge their penalty shootout defeat to fierce rivals Al Jazira in last season’s President’s Cup final.
Al Ain started brightly at Jazira’s Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium and had the ball in the net during the first half. Brazilian flyer Caio flicked in superbly after a beautiful lofted ball over the top from Mohamed Abdulrahman, but referee Ammar Al Jneibi brought play back as the former Kashima Antlers man had tugged back ex-Bani Yas defender Mohammed Jaber.
Cosmin Olaroiu’s side were much better after the interval and took the lead through UAE international Khalil.
The powerhouse forward was clearly tripped by Ahmed Barman as he chased a long ball into the area. The 25-year-old confidently stepped up to open the scoring although Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa got a strong hand to his low kick and was clearly disappointed to not keep it out.
The game sparked into life moments later when Ahli anchorman Khamis Esmail was booked for a crude lunge on Caio. Tempers threatened to boil over as Al Ain’s players surrounded Al Jneibi demanding a red card.
Esmail only saw yellow as did Boss talisman Omar Abdulrahman for his exuberant protestations.
The UAE schemer, playing as an auxiliary striker in Dalic’s 4-3-3 formation, came within a whisker of equalising in the 68th minute when he fashioned a chance following some neat close control and lashed a shot goalwards that had international teammate Majed Nasser scrambling across as his effort flew just wide.
Amoory was to have a telling impact on the game 10 minutes later though when he did haul his side level. Al Jneibi was again at the centre of the action as he awarded his second penalty of the game – another correct decision.
South Korea defender Kwon Kyung-won’s boot caught substitute Diaky in the midriff and the official pointed to the spot. Abdulrahman stepped up and dispatched his spot kick beyond the excellent Nasser.
Nasser did brilliantly to flick over Diaky’s powerful shot to keep the scores level as the game entered injury time, but he was finally beaten in the extra period.
Omar Abdulrahman sprayed a pin-point ball over the top to substitute Douglas, whose neat turn and shot was thwarted yet again by Nasser, but 34-year-old Diaky was quickest to react, netting the rebound on a pitch he called home for so many years having spent eight years at Jazira.
The contrast between Mark Milligan’s club and international duties could not be starker.
With Australia, the 31-year-old is part of a dominant squad expected to win every match on the way to World Cup 2018. Yet when he reports back for Bani Yas, mere survival becomes the aim.
This situation reached its nadir last weekend when the basement battle at Emirates Club ended in a humiliating 6-0 thrashing and return to last place in the Arabian Gulf League.
Asked how troublesome it has been alternating between these strikingly different realities, the utility man replied: “Extremely, extremely difficult. I am very competitive by nature.
“I am finding it hardest as I do not know how to help anymore and what to do. It is very difficult personally, but to be honest, as a group it is more difficult.”
A disappointing debut campaign in Abu Dhabi during 2015/16 finished up with a ninth-placed finish. The ex-Melbourne Victory captain could not have believed even worse was to come.
Under the dismissed Pablo Repetto and current incumbent Jose Manuel Gomes, a woeful 10 defeats in 12 top-flight fixtures have been recorded this term.
Champions Al Ahli are up next at Bani Yas Stadium on Thursday and Milligan insisted the onus was on the current set-up to find a way out of their predicament.
He said: “First and foremost, we need to get out of that losing mentality before you can change anything. I don’t think it matters how good your tactics are or anything is, it is hard to come out of.
“All you can do is work hard. I don’t think any tactics or anyone else in the world could help us at the moment, except ourselves.”
An inquest has seen Gomes assured of his immediate future and the board restructured. With the transfer window set to re-open on Sunday, Milligan was convinced more changes should follow.
He said: “Any team when they are in this situation, they need to look at strengthening somewhere.”
Last Friday, a youthful Sky Blues-XI were two-goals and a man down before the break courtesy of UAE goalkeeper Ahmed Dida’s wild dismissal. Even worse was to follow in the second half, a ramshackle display seeing four more conceded.
“The way we started, we gave two goals away which we didn’t have to,” said Milligan.
“They punished us early in the second half again. That was more due to the fact we didn’t just sit back and accept a 2-0 loss.
“We wanted to try and get something from it, but it didn’t work out.”
In a symbolic hand-over the FIFA Club World Cup was passed from Japan to the United Arab Emirates.
The ceremony took place inside the iconic International Stadium Yokohama moments before the final match of the 2016 tournament in which Real Madrid beat Kashima Antlers 4-2 after extra-time.
FIFA Deputy Secretary General of Football Zvonimir Boban, FIFA Chief Competitions and Events Officer Colin Smith and Japan Football Association (JFA) President Kohzo Tashima exchanged a jersey with Aref Al Awani, General Secretary, Abu Dhabi Sports Council, and Mohammed bin Hazzam Al Dhaheri, General Secretary of the UAE Football Association.
The ceremony ushers in the return of the Club World Cup to the UAE for 2017 and 2018. The UAE was host to the tournament in 2009 and 2010.
The video above looks at highlights from the 2010 final when the Club World Cup was last held in UAE and Inter Milan managed to beat TP Mazembe 3-0.
What do you think about UAE hosting the competition again?