Al Ain faces uphill task to win in Doha

Abu Dhabi: Al Ain’s AFC Champions League last 16 campaign suffered a huge setback in front of home fans as they were handed a 4-2 defeat by Qatar’s Al Duhail at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday.

To qualify for the quarters, Al Ain now have an uphill task and have to win the return leg at least by three goals.  

The Doha-based Club, with this success, increase their win tally to seven straight wins in the tournament. They also swelled the goal tally to 17 – the most goals netted by any of the eight West Zone teams who made it through to the Round of 16. 

Duhail’s men upfront – Ismail Mohammad and Youssef El Arabi – were like a live wire and they created havoc in the Al Ain camp right from the word go.

With the duo testing the Al Ain defense at will, the breakthrough was imminent and it came in the 16th minute. 

On mid-fielder Karim Boudiaf’s cross, El Arabi’s header was blocked by goalkeeper Khalid Eisa. Almoez Ali, lurking inside the box, also managed to take a shot on the rebound but it found a defender in its way and El Arabi made sure to slot home on that quick second opportunity.

Down by a goal, Al Ain immediately opted for an aggressive play and conducted a series of raids. 

In the 27th minute, ace mid-fielder Omar Abdul Rahman‘s right-footed shot from more than 35 yards missed the goal by inches after being assisted by Brazilian teammate Caio.

Mohammad Ahmad and Caio also came agonizingly close to scoring on a couple of occasions. However, with Al Ain pressing hard for an equalizer, the risk of conceding another goal on counter attack also increased. 

The visitor went on to double the lead in the 39th minute after South Korean Nam Tae-hee made a defense splitting run latching on to a clever touch by Ismail Mohammed, following a fast break. Tae-hee clearly beat Al Ain’s Mohammed Abdul Rahman on pace before putting the ball past a rooted Eisa into the open goal. 

There was more trouble for Al Ain immediately after the change of ends. El Arabi set it up brilliantly for an overlapping Ismail Mohammed and the latter ensured that he was clinical in his finish and Duhail led 3-0.

In the 55th minute, the lead was widened to 4-0 after Almoez Ali’s  left-footed effort settled into the left bottom corner of the goal after being set by Tae-hee.

To stem the rot, Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic then brought in Ahmed Khalil in place of Ahmed Barman Hammoudi in the 59th minute and it clicked. Khalil nodded home an Omar Abdul Rahman cross to reduce the margin to 4-1.

Then Ebrahim Diaky replaced Bandar Al Ahbabi in the 85th minute and he too made an immediate impact by scoring off a set-piece to make it 4-2. Khalil’s shot was blocked by Duhail goalkeeper Amine Lecomte but Diaky slotted it home on the rebounded. 

Just into the injury time, there was more misery for Al Ain with their Brazilian striker Caio bagging a red card for violent conduct.