Omar Abdulrahman was in inspirational form as former winners Al Ain moved a step closer to the final of the 2016 AFC Champions League yesterday evening with a 3-1 victory over Qatar’s El Jaish in the first leg of their semi-final at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
The United Arab Emirates midfielder, seeking to steer Al Ain to the final of the continental championship for first time since 2005, set up Douglas to score with a header before netting with a fine free kick inside the first 21 minutes as Zlatko Dalic’s team took command of the tie.
Sardor Rashidov’s 52nd minute penalty kept El Jaish in the contest with what could prove to be a vital away goal, although Caio’s late third for Al Ain puts the 2003 champions in the driving seat going into next month’s second leg.
Al Ain started with Colombian winger Danilo Asprilla on the bench and Mohamed Abdulrahman on the left, but it was the elder Abdulrahman who was the difference between the sides as Omar impressed yet again.
His 10th minute free kick was fumbled by El Jaish goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar, almost allowing Caio to open the scoring only for the Brazilian to snatch at his shot and fire high over the bar.
Six minutes later, though, Al Ain were in front. Omar Abdulrahman surged into the penalty area, taking the ball to the bye-line before standing up a cross at the far post with his left foot that Douglas strained to head home.
Al Ain were in total control and their dominance reaped the reward it deserved in the 21st minute when Omar Abdulrahman doubled his side’s lead with an exquisite free kick that curled and dipped over the defensive wall from 25 yards out to give Ababacar no chance. And with seven minutes to go in the half, Caio went close to adding a third before shooting just wide.
El Jaish struggled throughout the opening 45 minutes but, on the stroke of halftime, Sabri Lamouchi’s side almost pulled themselves back into the game through Romarinho, only for the Brazilian’s curling free kick to come back off the woodwork.
That, though, was a sign of things to come in the second half as the Qataris pulled themselves back into the game. Seydou Keita and Rashidov both threatened before Isamil Ahmad’s handball in the 51st minute had referee Peter Green pointing to the spot and Uzbek international Rashidov confidently converted.
Asprilla, on in place of Mohamed Abdulrahman in the second half, found the side netting and Douglas was denied by Ababacar in the final 10 minutes as Al Ain sought to restore their two-goal cushion, and with the game in injury time they finally claimed a third when Omar Abdulrahman’s ball into the centre was fumbled by Ababacar and Caio converted from close range.
Jaish will now have to hope for a strong start during the return leg in Doha. That match will be held on October 18.
© Gulf Times Newspaper 2019