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 on Tuesday.
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 slight advantage.
Ismail Ahmed and Asamoah Gyan scored in the second half of their quarter-final first leg in front of a capacity crowd at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain.
The match produced 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.
But Al Ain were clearly motivated by thousands of cheering home fans as they dominated the game throughout and emerged deserving winners.
Ahmed broke the deadlock with a volley from inside the box in the 48th minute and Ghanaian Gyan, the lynchpin of the side in the group stages, grabbed the second in the 61st minute.
Gyan’s goal was his 11th in the tournament, comfortably ahead of Saudi striker Nasser al-Shamrani, with seven.
Meanwhile 2011 champions Al Sadd can still feel optimistic of overturning the deficit at home in Qatar next week.
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.
But they were distinctly unlucky on Tuesday, 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.
Just a few minutes before Al Hilal’s goal, Al Sadd’s Nadir Belhadj hit the crossbar, while earlier in the first half Mohamed Kasola and Rodrigo Tabata had gone close.