Abu Dhabi: Goalkeeper Khalid Eisa saved the day with two brilliant saves as Al Ain pulled out a 4-3 win on penalties over a resilient Team Wellington to book their place in the quarter-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday.
Al Ain had earlier rallied from a 3-0 deficit to force the match into extra time and then a tiebreak after being locked at 3-3 at full-time. At half-time the scoreboard read 3-1 in favour of the visitors. In the tiebreak, Ebrahim Diaky, Hussain Al Shahat, Tsukasa Shiotani and Caio scored for Al Ain while Ross Allen, Mario Ilich and Hamish Watson were on target for Wellington.
Both teams saw their second penalties being missed. After Marcus Berg shot over for Al Ain, Wellington’s Angus Kilkolly’s shot was saved by Eisa. With captain Justin Gulley’s effort again saved by Eisa, there were wild celebrations in the crowd.
“It was a tough match for us and had to really fight hard. Marcus Berg was having fever and that also affected us. Now it will be all about rest, rest and rest to be ready for the next game,” said a relieved looking Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic.
In the regulation period, Shiotani, Tongo Doumbia and Berg scored to keep Al Ain in the match at full time after Mario Alberto Barcia, Aaron Chapman and Mario Ilich had put Wellington in the lead with a goal apiece.
Barcia put Wellington in the lead with a long-range 30-yard effort in the 11th minute. Three minutes later, the Al Ain defence were again exposed and the visitors doubled their lead with ease. Chapman had all the time in the world to pick his spot after Andy Bevin set him up with a measured through pass.
New recruit’s debut
Al Ain had chosen to start with their new Malian recruit Doumbia in his debut match for the club. It clearly showed as the midfield failed to work like a well-oiled machine in the early stages of the match.
Berg, while all this was happening, was watching proceedings from the bench. Someone needed to respond quickly to put Al Ain’s campaign back on track and Brazilian Caio rose to the occasion but his goal was disallowed following a review.
Caio had made a timely run before slotting it home following a pinpoint release from Al Shahat. However, the referee after taking a close look at the video felt there was a foul in the build-up.
Then in the 35th minute, Mohammad Abdul Rahman saw his effort sail over the crossbar. Immediately after that, another left-footed effort from Al Shahat was blocked by Wellington goalkeeper Scott Basalaj. Wellington then piled the misery on Al Ain with Ilich, left unmarked at the far post, tapping home following a corner from Henry Cameron.
However, egged on by the home fans, the hosts managed to reduce the margin after their Japanese midfielder Shiotani slotted home with a neat grounder following a miscue from Cameron.
The second half started with Al Ain scoring almost instantaneously to reduce the margin to 3-2. Doumbia hammered the ball home with a left-footed effort after a fine cross from the left by Caio. And had the vertical not come to the rescue of Wellington in the 76th minute, Al Ain would have drawn level through Caio.
Then Berg, who came in during the last quarter, straightaway missed two close-range headers but made amends by through a brilliant side volley to make it 3-3 five minutes from time.
Wellington team, comprised of mainly of part-time players, showed they had enough steam to hold the hosts in extra time as well.
Al Ain were reduced to 10-men after Mohammad Abdul Rahman bagged his second yellow in the dying minutes before the match headed into the deciding tiebreak.