Al Ain: Al Ain fell short of a second AFC Champions League crown, not because of the missed penalty but more due to a series of squandered opportunities especially in the first half in the final here late on Saturday.
That was the honest assessment from Zlatko Dalic’s assistant Borimir Perkovic, standing in place of the Croatian coach following his red card from Japanese referee Ryuji Sato at the end of the first half at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
Champions in the inaugural edition in 2003, Al Ain came close a second time after they ended runners-up to Al Ittihad, Saudi Arabia in 2005. And on Saturday, as they stood just one step away for a second continental crown, they were denied by a gritty Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors who held them to a 1-1 after ending with a 2-1 win at home a week earlier.
“In the first 45 minutes we played an excellent game. We had four or five chances and we missed a penalty,” Perkovic rued.
“In the second half we didn’t play at the same level as in the first, but we gave it everything we had. Everyone was fantastic. I am sure Al Ain deserved to be champions a second time, but then this is football,” he shrugged.
Perkovic refused to agree that Dalic’s banishment into the stands coupled with the missed penalty by Douglas changed the complexion of the final. “We had good communication with Zlatko even though he was out in the second half. 45 minutes is a long time and during half-time Zlatko told the players in the dressing room that we have enough time to get a goal. But we did not manage to do that,” Perkovic admitted.
“We tried and we fought hard, but we didn’t have the luck. We lost the match in the first half because we had five excellent chances and we didn’t score. In the second half we did not play as good as the first. I think we lost the game due to the first half,” he added.
Dalic, who did not attend the post-match conference due to his red card at the end of first half, later told media that he could not blame his team as they fought well till the end. On the contrary, the Croatian preferred to look ahead to immediate challenges.
“I cannot say anything against my team as they played well. The turning point for me was the missed penalty. But we had another four clear chances and we should have converted these and things would have been different. Even more important was that the Koreans got one chance and they scored. Of course, this is a big shock for us especially after dominating the match so much,” Dalic noted.
There were minor consolations for the two-time AFC Champions League runners-up as Al Ain was given the ‘Fairplay Award’ while their captain Omar Abdul Rahman was voted the ‘Most Valuable Player’.
Al Ain’s next challenge will be a long journey to Al Dhafra for their ninth round in the Arabian Gulf League on November 30. The Boss will be hopeful of catching up with current leaders Al Wasl as they have three earlier rounds yet to play [against Al Ahli, Hatta and Al Jazira]. After eight rounds, Al Wasl lead the league standings with 21 points, while Al Ain are with 13 points and three earlier matches in hand.
“Now we must concentrate on recovery and take up new challenges ahead. Tomorrow is a new day and we must look forward,” Dalic said.