Al Ain’s 2018 Asian Champions League campaign was brought to an end on Tuesday when they were eliminated at the last-16 stage.
The UAE champions, runners-up on the continent two years ago, lost 4-1 in the second leg against Al Duhail in Doha to exit the competition 8-3 on aggregate. It represented Al Ain’s final match of the 2017/18 season.
Trailing 4-2 from last week’s initial encounter at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Zoran Mamic’s men faced an uphill battle against their Qatari counterparts. Al Ain’s hopes suffered an early setback at the Abdullah bin Khalifa Stadium, when on 12 minutes defender Mohammed Ahmed deflected into his own goal Nam Tae-hee’s driven effort.
Al Ain, missing influential stars Marcus Berg and Caio through illness and suspension respectively, pushed forward to find a way back into the match, but they were always susceptible on the break.
On the half hour, an attack along Al Ain’s left allowed Ismail Mohammed to cross low and narrowly avoid goalkeeper Khalid Essa’s grasp, leaving Youssef El Arabi to prod home into the empty net.
Essa then saved well from Nam before Duhail defender Lucas Mendes headed wide when he should have scored. Just before half-time, Ahmed Khalil flashed a free-kick wide for Al Ain.
Nine minutes after the break, the visitors’ faint hopes of reaching the quarter-finals were practically extinguished. Again, Duhail pounced on the counter-attack, this time Sultan Al Brake racing clear to force a save from the onrushing Essa. The Al Ain goalkeeper did well to block Al Brake’s chip, although the ball fell invitingly for Mohammed to dispatch the rebound. Al Ain now needed five goals.
Yet Duhail, boasting a 100 per cent record in this year’s Champions League and seeking to extend a 19-match winning streak, never looked likely to relinquish such an advantage. To their credit, Al Ain continued to press the hosts.
Not long after the hour mark, Omar Abdulrahman curled an effort from the edge of the Duhail penalty area that kissed the woodwork. Moments later, Khalil dragged a shot wide. With 15 minutes remaining, Hussein El Shahat fired over.
However, Al Ain’s attack was blunted significantly by Berg’s absence in particular. The Swede had scored 36 times in 35 appearances in his debut season, proving integral to his side clinching the domestic double. Without Berg, Al Ain understandably struggled.
Their misery was complete four minutes from time. Mohanad Salem was adjudged to have handled in the area when attempting to block a shot, with El Arabi converting the resultant penalty. Replays showed the decision was harsh on Salem. In injury-time, Abdulrahman scored a penalty of his own, but it was scant consolation.
So Al Ain, still the only UAE side to win the Champions League, will have to wait another year for continental glory. They lifted the title in 2003, and last failed to reach the quarter-finals in 2015.