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Al Ain conquer Ronaldo's Al Nasr in first leg of Asian Champions League quarters

Soufiane Rahimi scored what was the eventual match-winner in the 42nd minute of the game
4 Mar 2024 22:51

AL AIN (ALETIHAD)


Al Ain managed to prevail over Al Nassr of Saudi Arabia 1-0 as they played an exciting first leg at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium to open the quarter-final stage of the Asian Champions League on Monday.

Hosts Al Ain had their star playmaker Soufiane Rahimi finding the net three minutes before the first half after having an early goal from Alejandro Romero chalked off against a loaded line-up of world-class internationals led by Cristiano Ronaldo.

Hernan Crespo's men travel to Riyadh now for the return leg, hoping the subdued Ronaldo and the likes remain so as inaugural tournament champions in 2003 seek a third semi-final entry.

Former Manchester City centre-back Aymeric Laporte will be missing there after being shown the red card – with the help of Video Assistant Referee – for violent conduct. A total of eight yellow cards and the straight red for Laporte kept the referee busy.

In a defensive lapse by a team filled with superstars, Romero spotted Rahimi sauntering in from the left flank sent a pinpoint, timely through ball which caught Laporte and his colleagues in the defence napping. Former Arsenal and Napoli goalkeeper David Ospina rushed out but Rahimi sidestepped him and tapped the ball in comfortably from middle close range.


It was Sadio Mane, who was in the thick of the action in the second minute of the game when an assist and attempt were blocked out by the alert Al Ain defense. Minutes later, Ronaldo and Rahimi both had attempts from the centre of the box going wide to the left of the goal. 

Rahimi turned aggressor in the 23minute when his shot prompted a save in the bottom left corner. Five minutes later, Alejandro Romero found the first breakthrough for Al Ain only for Rahimi to be adjudged offside with technological intervention. 

The last five minutes before the breather saw a flurry of activity on the counter by both sides; one of which resulted in Al Ain's goal, and invited quick reactions from Ronaldo and Mane. On the edge, Romero attracted a yellow card for a bad foul. 

Al Nassr manager Luis Ribeiro de Crasto was forced into a double substitution very early. Seven minutes into the second half, an injured Sultan Al Ghannam made way for Abdulelah Al Amri but the coach also introduced Sami Al Naji in the midfield in place of Abdulmajeed Al Sulayhim. 

More problems rose for Al Nassr when Aziz Behich had to be substituted in the 73rd minute, and worse his replacement, Meshari Al Nemer picked up a yellow card inside three minutes of his arrival.

It was a similar story for Al Ain's third substitute of the night Sultan Al Shamsi who tried to delay his arrival. The tension was palpable as 10 minutes earlier, Al Ain goalkeeper Khaled Eisa produced the save of the night to deny Ronaldo a sixth AFC Champions League goal. 

The Al Ain goalkeeper adjusted quickly, showing fine reflexes to push away the Portuguese ace's finish from close range after Ronaldo was set up by a Aiman Yahya cross from the left.

Crespo's spaced out switches tried to help his players gain control on the ill-tempered rhythm of the match, especially towards the end when the injury time spilled into an ungainly 15 extra minutes before the final whistle blow.

Fans of the Garden City club ensured an agonising wait as they dreaded a late winner as Darwin Nunez managed for Liverpool over the weekend against Nottingham Forest.
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