Al Ain will take the chance to fight another day as their 10-men held on at home after seeing centre-back Mohanad Salem sent off.
The scoreline reads 0-0 but this was anything but a dour draw as both sides had goals ruled out while two of the best and busiest players on the pitch were both goalkeepers.
Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic was pleased with the result, especially as Al Hilal are two games into their Saudi Pro League campaign.
The Croatian said: “Al Hilal have played two games. I didn’t want to make excuses before the game but we can see they have played two games more.
“The result is ok for both teams. We are satisfied with the result. To not concede at home is very important. We have some games before the next leg and the players will get much more competitive games and we will be ready for the return in Riyadh.
“There will be a great atmosphere in their stadium and hopefully Al Ain will go into the semi-final.”
Although Crescent counterpart Ramon Diaz was disappointed not to take advantage of the extra man in the second half, he was at pains to point out the significance of the two legs.
“We tried to make use of the man advantage. We had two chances to win it but they did not translate into goals. Al Ain closed all the gaps and relied heavily on their counter-attacks,” said the Argentine.
“It is a 180-minute match and we are waiting for the second one and hopefully we will qualify from that. We have another 90 minutes and we will do our best to win it.”
Unlike most games played here at the Hazza bin Zayed, the atmosphere was rocking for an AFC Champions League clash between two of West Asia’s powerhouses.
Two boisterous sets of fans set the scene with a barrage of noise before kick-off and the players certainly didn’t disappoint, with the game adopting a breakneck pace from the off.
In one frantic minute, Mohamed Abdulrahman flashed a drive just wide before Omar Khrbin let fly at the other end but sent his effort straight down Khalid Essa’s throat.
Syrian striker Khrbin, well known in these parts following his impressive stint at Al Dhafra, found the net after just 12 minutes, although his was rightly ruled out for offside – the 23-year-old rifled into the roof of the net but was clearly ahead of play following Carlos Eduardo’s overhead kick.
Thirteen minutes later, Douglas, back from the dead in the Garden City, must have felt he’d sprouted wings when he flung himself at Omar Abdulrahman’s fine delivery to stab home for the Boss, but the linesman’s flag robbed him of what would have been a deserved strike. Replays showed it was a tight call that could easily have gone the other way.
Abdullah Al Maiouf began to stockpile a clutch of saves that would earn him the man of the match award when he parried Amoory’s strike behind after he was sent clear. Then Osama Hawsawi flung himself bravely into the path of Marcus Berg’s shot to deny the Swede a goal on his competitive debut after Douglas had done well to nod a cross down into his path.
Salem was to receive an ominous yellow card on the stroke of half time for deliberately tugging Khrbin back who would have otherwise been in on goal.
Two quick yellow cards early in the second half whipped the crowd up into a frenzy again. Abdullah Al Hafith collected one initially for barging Amoory over close to goal, while the levels ratcheted up again when Saudi Arabia international Salman Al Faraj was also booked for protesting.
Who knows how loud the noise levels would have reached had Amoory found the top corner from the resulting free-kick – his effort somehow clawed out by Al Maiouf.
Then came the moment the Boss feared might tip the game in Hilal’s favour. There was barely any contact as Salem slid in on Al Faraj, but with the experienced UAE centre-back on a yellow, it was foolish to say the least.
The hosts took a little time to find their bearings after that and Matias Britos inexplicably headed against his own arm when Eduardo’s brilliant delivery found him unmarked six yards out.
Al Ain had a great chance to win it five minutes from the end when Douglas rose delightfully to meet Amoory’s inviting cross. He did everything right but somehow, again, Al Maiouf palmed away his effort.
Mamic’s men were fortunate to hold onto the result late on as first Yasir Al Shahrani saw his fierce effort tipped behind by Essa, before left-back Mohammed Jahfali wasted the best chance of the game when he ghosted in at the back post to meet a cross but ballooned his header horribly over.
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