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AL-AIN, United Arab Emirates, Sept 27, (AFP): Emirati giants Al Ain kept on course for a second AFC Champions League title with a 3-1 semi-final first leg win over Qatar’s El Jaish at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday.
Brazilian Douglas and UAE international Omar Abdulrahman scored within five first half minutes to put Al Ain in front before Sardor Rashidov struck from the spot in the second half to give El Jaish hope of a comeback.
However, Caio’s injury-time strike ensured that Al Ain go into the second leg on Oct 18 in Doha with a comfortable two-goal cushion as they target their second continental title after winning the inaugural tournament in 2003.
Yet, victory was not offered to Al Ain on a platter as Sabri Lamouchi’s side put up a plucky display in the second half only to be undone by a mix of bad luck and lacklustre finishing.
El Jaish had gotten the better of Al Ain twice in the group stages but their passage to the semis was only possible because of Al Nasr’s player mix-up.
Al Nasr had beaten El Jaish 3-0 in Doha, but the result was annulled and the match awarded in the Qatari outfit’s favour by the same margin after it emerged that UAE side had fielded an ineligible player.
The huge blow left Al Nasr needing a victory in the second leg, but El Jaish ensured that was not the case, winning it 1-0 and advancing to the last four with a 4-0 aggregate.
But all that was of no consequence on Tuesday as UAE talisman Abdulrahman inspired his teammates with his fine all-round abilities, scoring the second goal and also playing a hand in the other two.
After Ciao failed to take advantage of a fumble by El Jaish goalkeeper Khalifa Ababacar in the 10th minute off an Abdulrahman free-kick, Al Ain found the target six minutes later.
Abdulrahman barged into the edge of the penalty area unchecked before crossing at the far post which Douglas headed past Ababacar to give Al Ain the lead.
Five minutes later, Al Ain doubled their lead with a delightful freekick taken by Abdulrahman that dipped over the wall leaving Ababacar completely clueless. El Jaish managed to regain their composure in the second half and came close to scoring on several occasions. A stunning freekick by Romarinho thudded into the post and former Barcelona star Seydou Keita and Rashidov also had decent chances coming their way.
Uzbek international Rashidov was not to be denied, however, in the 52nd minute when he confidently scored from the penalty spot after Ismail Ahmad had handled the ball.
With seconds to go before the final whistle, Abdulrahman was in the thick of the action again. His ball into the centre was fumbled by Ababacar and Caio struck from point-blank range to ensure Al Ain head to the second leg with confidence.