Al Ain Eye Final Glory After Knocking Out Saudi Giants Al Hilal

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) Published: Wed 24 Apr 2024, 7:28 PM

Al Ain goalkeeper Khaled Eisa and head coach Hernan Crespo were delighted after the UAE club overcame the Saudi giants to reach the final of the Asian Champions League.

Eisa delivered a heroic display against Saudi, producing several fantastic saves to help Al Ain reach the final 5-4 on aggregate.

Al Ain lost the return leg 2-1 in Riyadh, but their comprehensive 4-2 win in the first leg at home last week and Eisa's heroics on Tuesday night made the difference.

In the final, the 14-time UAE champions will take on Japan's Yokohama F. Marinos, which beat Ulsan Hyundai FC of South Korea 5-4 on penalties in the second leg of the semifinal on Wednesday following a 3-3 draw on aggregate.

The final will be played over two legs with Al Ain travelling to Japan for the first leg on May 11 and the return leg will be played at the iconic Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in the Garden City on May 25.

Eisa, who was in top form against Al Hilal, will need to be at his best against the formidable Japanese team in the final.

"I am glad to be playing well again, especially as we are now at the important stage of the season and I thank the confidence of the coach and the club management in me," said the 34-year-old custodian.

Trailing 4-2 after their record 34-match winning run was ended in last week's first leg, Al Hilal quickly cut the deficit through Ruben Neves' fourth-minute penalty.

Brazilian Erik drew Al Ain level on the night, though, to leave runaway Saudi Pro League leaders Al Hilal with a mountain to climb in the second half.

But Salem Al Dawsari scored a rebound less than six minutes after the restart to give the hosts renewed hope.

Brazilian Michael and former Lazio star Sergei Milinkovic-Savic both went close as Al Hilal piled on the pressure, the latter seeing his effort cleared off the line.

Eisa enjoyed a fine evening, making six saves, including from Michael and Mohamed Kanno late on.

Al Ain, which stunned Cristiano Ronaldo's Al Nassr in the quarterfinals, clung on desperately through nine minutes of added time, with Eisa keeping out a Michael header in the 98th minute.

“It's not easy to come here and play the way these players play with this personality, this courage. It's not easy,” Crespo told reporters after the match.

“We played compact. We played as a family, and it's an amazing moment. Because when you see your team play this way and deserve to go through. If you analyse both games, we deserve to go through.”

The legendary Argentinian striker also said his team is ready for the final after knocking out Al Nassr and Al Hilal, two of the strongest teams in Asia, from the competition.

“Tonight is time to talk about our players and our team. We talk so much about the two teams we eliminated because we were underdogs in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and we go through,” Crespo said.

“These players deserve we talk about them. They play in an amazing way ... amazing. With a great personality, in a very difficult place to play.

“Because a lot of fans, full stadium, was beautiful for everyone who likes football and follows this passion. To play in this hot atmosphere is not easy. And they played very well.

“So I don't have any other words for other people; only for my players, because they deserve everything, they deserve to be on all the front pages.

“Our fans must be proud of them. Because they play with the heart and defend very well the name of our club, Al Ain.”

Tuesday's win was also a redemption for Crespo who suffered a humiliating 7-0 loss to Al Hilal last year in the semifinals of the tournament when he was the coach of Qatari club Al Duhail. (With inputs from AFC, AFP)


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