With a possible semi-final spot in the Arabian Gulf Cup out of reach, Al Ain coach Zlatko Dalic conceded that all his energies will now be concentrated on their away match in the Asian Champions League.
Knowing fully well that only a win could keep their hopes alive, The Boss fought back twice before settling to a 2-2 draw against Al Shabab in their Arabian Gulf Cup match late on Monday.
The home team twice took the lead in the first half, and on both occasions it was Al Ain fighting back to draw level. Al Shabab went clear in the eighth minute when Manei Mohammad curled in a beautiful left footer into the far corner, only to see Al Ain draw level in the 22nd minute when Danilo Asprilla controlled a long ball from Caio Lucas to slot past Hassan Hamza.
Al Shabab went ahead a second time when Henrique Luvannor headed in a calculated cross from Dawood Ali in the 38th minute, but Dyanfres Douglas hammered in a penalty in the 42nd minute to make it 2-2. That result has left Al Ain stranded in fifth position with four points, while Al Ahli and Al Shabab occupy the top two spots in Group B with ten points apiece and one match still in hand.
With the last glimmer of hope gone, Dalic now has the luxury of starting the build-up for Al Ain’s return trip to Doha for their semi-final against Al Jaish on October 18. The Qataris will be hoping to overturn September 27’s 3-1 reverse against The Boss and seek a place in the final against one of two South Korean teams, Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors or FC Seoul.
“Four goals in one half says a lot of the way both teams played. But unfortunately this is not a competition we have done well in the last three years. In the second half we were the better team but we didn’t score a goal. Though it is a fair result, we are out of the race for the semi-final,” Dalic told media on Monday.
“Before this competition, I expected us to do something, but two losses dented our hopes. Now the focus is all on the semi-final of the Asian Champions League preparations,” he added.
Al Ain’s Croatian coach further reiterated that he did experiment a bit with his line-up for the AFC Champions League by pushing his star players for the Al Shabab match. “I used this match to see some of (the) players that I have in mind against Al Jaish. The goal was also to try and win today, but since that did not happen, we will turn all our focus on the Champions League,” Dalic said.
With his team within sights of a spot in the last four stages, Al Shabab coach Fred Rutten said that the race is still very open. “We cannot take our place in the semi-finals for granted. We have just one match remaining [away to Bani Yas on December 12] and we need to beat them and that’s all that matters for us,” Rutten said.
“Al Shabab is a team that can improve tremendously. We saw this today when we witnessed two superb goals. This is testimony to the confidence our players have on the ball, and we need to continue playing the same way,” he added.
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