Al Ain Star Soufiane Rahimi Brimming With Confidence After Stunning Hat Trick

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Thu 18 Apr 2024, 6:11 PM

Al Ain star striker Soufiane Rahimi was brimming with confidence after his stunning hat trick helped the UAE club beat Saudi giants Al Hilal 4-2 in the first leg of their AFC Champions League semifinal on Wednesday night.

The Morocco striker scored all of his goals in the first half as Al Ain ended Al Hilal's world-record breaking run at 34 wins.

"I will prepare for the second leg as I do for all matches, mentally and physically. I prepare the same way for all matches, and I will not change that," said Rahimi, who leads the AFC Champions League goals chart with 11, with Al Hilal the third Saudi Arabian side to fall victim to him this season.

"We played against three Saudi teams - Al Fayha, Al Nassr and Al Hilal - and I grateful to have scored against all of them. I hope I can score in the next match as well.

"I am proud of our performance against a big team like Al Hilal. Everyone wants to play perfectly in big matches. Such matches require big players and I like to always show my best."

Al Hilal, the four-time Asian champions, last failed to win a game in September last year when they drew a Saudi Pro League match.

Wednesday's game had been postponed 24 hours after torrential rain swamped the UAE and the record-setting Saudis must have wished it had kept raining.

Rahimi opened the scoring after just six minutes from a pass by Yahia Nader and added a second from the penalty spot 20 minutes later after he was brought down by goalkeeper Mohammed Al Owais who was yellow carded for his troubles.

Rahimi completed his hat trick in the 40th minute, again from a penalty after Ali Al Bulayhi chopped down Brazilian defender Erik in the area.

Al Hilal reduced the deficit early in the second period when Malcom scored from a pass by Sergej Milinkovic-Savic.

However, the Saudis conceded yet another penalty just before the hour mark with Kalidou Koulibaly bringing down Rahimi.

This time Paraguayan star Alejandro Romero took over spot-kick duties to make it 4-1 for Al Ain, the inaugural winners of the Asian Champions League in 2003.

Salem Al Dawsari kept Al Hilal in the tie ahead of next Tuesday's return leg by scoring his team's second goal of the night in the 78th minute.

For Al Ain head coach Hernan Crespo, the win was sweet as Al Hilal had dismantled the Argentine's previous club - Qatar's Al Duhail SC - 7-0 in the AFC Champions League 2022 semifinal but said there was still much to do if the UAE side are to reach the final.

"Nothing is decided as we still have a match in Riyadh and everyone should be ready for the next match. The most important thing in life and in football is to be competitive. We are very happy with the result.

"I am happy because the players made the fans happy, and I am proud of the performance."

Al Hilal head coach Jorge Jesus said his team was not complacent going into Wednesday's match in Al Ain.

"There is no such thing called overconfidence. In football, you can't control what happens in the match," Jesus said.

"We are not used to conceding four goals and we should sit and analyse why this happened and correct it."

Earlier Wednesday, South Korea's Ulsan claimed a slender lead in their semifinal with a 1-0 first leg win over Japan's Yokohama F-Marinos. (With inputs from AFP/AFC)


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Khaleej Times

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