Saudi’s Al Ittihad forward Fahad al-Muwallad, left, dribbling past UAE’s Al Ain’s midfielder Lee Myung-Joo during their AFC Champions League football match at the Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain yesterday.
UAE’s Al Ain and Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal have one foot in the semi-finals of the AFC Champions League after winning their quarter-final first leg matches yesterday.
While Al Ain comfortably beat Saudi giants Al Ittihad 2-0 at home, Al Hilal edged unlucky Al Sadd of Qatar 1-0 in Riyadh to go into the second leg next week with a considerable advantage.
At the sparkling new Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Ismail Ahmed and Asamoah Gyan found the target for Al Ain in the second half in front of a capacity crowd who were treated to some excellent football despite the hot and humid weather in the Emirates’ Garden City.
The two former Asian champions had clashed twice in the group stages with Al Ittihad winning one and the second match ending in a draw.
However yesterday, Al Ain were clearly motivated by thousands of cheering home fans as they dominated the game thoroughly and came out deserving winners.
Ahmed put the home side ahead with a good volley from inside the box after receiving a pass from French striker Jires Kembo-Ekoko in the 48th minute.
And Ghanaian Gyan, who was their talisman during the group stages, helped Al Ain consolidate in the 61st when he outpaced two defenders and shot past the goalkeeper Fawaz al-Qarni after receiving a measured chip from Abdulrahman Omar in the midfield.
With yesterday’s strike, Gyan extended his tally to 11 goals in the tournament, comfortably ahead of Saudi side Nasser al-Shamrani who has scored seven.
Meanwhile, in the second quarter-final yesterday, 2011 champions Qatar’s Al Sadd fell to a 1-0 defeat against Al Hilal in Riyadh.
Al Sadd were not short on motivation after drawing first blood in Qatar’s domestic season by winning the Sheikh Jassim Cup last week beating league champions Lekhwiya 3-2 in Doha.
But they were distinctly unlucky yesterday, missing several chances before a powerful shot from close range in the 70th minute by Salman al-Faraj beat the Al Sadd goalkeeper Saad al-Sheeb and gave Al Hilal a crucial win ahead of their second leg clash next week.
Just a few minutes before Al Hilal’s winning goal, Al Sadd’s Nadir Belhadj found the crossbar coming in his way, while earlier in the first half Mohamed Kasola and Rodrigo Tabata had gone close.