Crespo's Al Ain beat Yokohama 5-1 to win Asian Champions League

AFP , Saturday 25 May 2024

Hernan Crespo's Al Ain steamrollered 10-man Yokohama F-Marinos 5-1 in the Asian Champions League final return leg to lift the trophy for the second time in their history on Saturday.

Ain s Moroccan midfielder #21 Soufiane Rahimiduring the second leg of the AFC Champions League Final between UAE s Al Ain and Japan s Yokohama F. Marinos at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al-Ain on May 25, 2024. AFP


The hosts trailed 2-1 from the away fixture but two goals from Soufiane Rahimi, a Kaku penalty and Kodjo Laba's late double ensured a 6-3 aggregate victory after Yokohama goalkeeper William Popp saw red just before half-time.

Al Ain, the oil-rich United Arab Emirates' most successful club, won the inaugural Champions League final in 2003 and were runners-up in 2005 and 2016.

Harry Kewell's Yokohama were attempting to become the fourth Japanese winners after Gamba Osaka, Kashima Antlers and three-time winners Urawa Red Diamonds.

The win will be all the sweeter for Crespo after the 2005 European Champions League final, when the ex-Argentina international scored twice for AC Milan before Kewell's Liverpool came back to win on penalties.

Crespo had promised "hell" for Yokohama and thousands of fans in white robes and headdresses let off flares and chanted outside before packing out Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.

With temperatures still hovering above 30 degrees Celsius (97 degrees Fahrenheit) at the 8:00 pm kick-off, Al Ain were ahead after just nine minutes.

Yahia Nader's sweet backheel wrong-footed the defence and tournament top-scorer Rahimi rifled a low shot into the net for his 12th of the competition.

Ken Matsubara had a fizzing shot tipped wide but Al Ain doubled their advantage in the 34th minute after Shinnosuke Hatanaka brought down Rahimi in the box.

After a VAR review, Uzbek referee Ilgiz Tantashev pointed to the spot and Paraguay international Kaku smashed it into the bottom right, sparking delirium in the stands.

Saudi conquests

Al Ain's joy was doused as Yokohama's Yan Matheus stole a bouncing ball from Kouame Kouadio, then turned the defender inside-out and finished left-footed to make it 2-1 and 3-3 on aggregate.

But the half -- which stretched to an extraordinary 62 minutes -- finished badly for Yokohama when goalkeeper William Popp felled the on-rushing Rahimi and was sent off deep into injury time.

After the restart, a depleted Yokohama lived dangerously when Hatanaka, under pressure from Rahimi, parried a deep cross onto his own crossbar.

The visitors were creaking and on 67 minutes, Rahimi picked up a rebound, rounded a defender and lashed it past substitute 'keeper Fuma Shirasaka at his near post.

The goal knocked the stuffing out of Yokohama, who also had Hatanaka stretchered off, and Togolese substitute Laba pierced their porous defence twice in another long spell of injury time.

Al Ain had already won bragging rights over neighbouring Saudi Arabia, whose teams spent more than a billion dollars on players including Cristiano Ronaldo last year, with their Asian campaign.

Crespo's side ousted Ronaldo's Al Nassr in the quarter-finals before halting Al Hilal's top-flight-record streak of 34 consecutive wins when they met in the semis.

With their victory, Al Ain also reach the new-look, 32-team Club World Cup, whose inaugural staging is scheduled for June and July next year in the United States.

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