Abu Dhabi: Al Ain’s chances of progressing in the AFC Champions League have ended after they were handed a 2-0 defeat by Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal in the Group C fixture at the King Saud University Stadium on Monday.
With Qatar’s Al Duhail earning a hard-fought draw against Iran’s Esteghlal at the Azadi Stadium in the other group fixture on Monday, Al Hilal have confirmed their place in the round of 16 with a game in hand. Al Duhail also became the first West Asian team to book their place in the AFC Champions League round of 16.
Facing a must-win situation for any chance of progressing, Al Ain’s troubles started with Hattan Bahebri netting the second-fastest goal in Champions League history — in just 15 seconds.
Carlos Eduardo made a fine run down the centre and showed brilliant ball skills to dribble past five Al Ain players before being brought down. The loose ball fell to a lurking Bahebri, whose left-footed effort made Al Ain goalkeeper Khaled Eisa look like a mere spectator.
Al Hilal continued to dominate after the break and came close to doubling their advantage a couple of times but Eisa was equally up for the challenge.
Al Hilal coach Pericles Chamusca, who replaced former Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic, then brought in veteran Mohammad Al Shalhoub in place of goalscorer Bahebri in the 76th minute. The 38-year-old struck in the dying minutes with a curling effort after being set by Salem Al Dawsari from the left.
“The two teams have done well on the ground, but I feel my team could have got a better result than the way the game ended,” said Al Ain’s Spanish coach Juan Carlos Garrido, whose side are currently looking to finish at least in the third spot in the Arabian Gulf league to qualify for next season’s Champions League. “We wasted chances, then you cannot achieve any positive result. I cannot fail to congratulate Al Hilal on winning and qualifying for the final.
“The fact is that the team is going through times of decline in performance and not at its best for a while. We are now required to think about our future engagements to reserve the AFC Champions League qualifying ticket next season.”