Asia AFC Champions League

Al Hilal’s Continental Dream Dashed Despite Second Leg Win

Despite losing 2-1 to Saudi Arabian giants Al Hilal in the second leg of their semi-final at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh on Tuesday, Al Ain of the United Arab Emirates secured their spot in the 2023/24 AFC Champions League final with a 5-4 aggregate score. This marks their return to the final for the first time since 2016.

Their journey to the final was marked by a thrilling first-leg performance, where a Soufiane Rahimi hat-trick propelled them to a 4-2 victory, halting Al Hilal’s impressive 34-match winning streak. The anticipation for the showdown in the Saudi capital was palpable, with injured stars Neymar and Aleksandar Mitrovic observing from the sidelines.

The match kicked off with intensity as Al Hilal was awarded a penalty within the opening minute, converted expertly by Ruben Neves. However, Al Ain quickly responded, with Erik’s impressive run setting up Yahia Nader to equalize. Unfortunately for Al Ain, Erik’s jubilation was short-lived as he sustained a foot injury and had to leave the pitch.

A moment of chaos in Al Ain’s penalty area nearly gave Al Hilal an advantage, but luck was on Al Ain’s side as the ball hit the upright. VAR played a crucial role in the match, overturning a penalty decision that would have favored Al Hilal. The second half saw Al Hilal regain the lead through Salem Al Dawsari’s strike, despite Michael’s valiant efforts for Al Ain.

In the end, goalkeeper Khaled Eisa’s heroics ensured Al Ain’s progression to the final, denying Michael’s attempts to level the tie. The traveling supporters erupted in celebration as Al Ain booked their place in the final, where they await the winners of Japan’s Yokohama F. Marinos and South Korea’s Ulsan HD.

And with the AFC Champions League being revamped into the AFC Champions League Elite next season, it seems fitting that Al Ain, winners of the first AFC Champions League in it’s current format back in 2003, will take part in the final of its last iteration.