Al Ain: Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu had to weather two battles on Sunday — one in court and the other on field. Both, however, were against the same outfit — Al Ain.
The Romanian chose to give the court hearing a skip and decided to settle the scores on field and emerged ‘victorious’.
Al Ahli, riding on a brace of goals by Grafite, soaked tremendous pressure towards the end to win the absorbing high profile Arabian Gulf League clash 3-2 at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
Al Ain’s Asamoah Gyan reduced the margin from the spot before Al Ahli substitute Ahmad Khalil made it 3-1 with a goal on the counter in stoppage time. Esmail Ahmad immediately added more drama by heading home a second for Al Ain. With the star medio Omar Abdul Rehman leaving the Al Ahli defence in tatters with his skills, Ahmad could have stolen the equalizer deep into the injury time had his header not flown over the framework.
Olaroiu, the former Al Ain coach, was back in the dugout for the first time after being in exile for four months from UAE football. Earlier in the day, he was supposed to appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport against a three-month suspended sentence and Dh21,000 fine after he was found guilty by the Misdemeanours’ Court in February for remarks he made during a press conference last November.
His lawyers managed to get an adjournment until April 20, claiming Olaroiu will be busy with the Asian Champions League match to be held next month. Al Ain is not only suing Olaroiu for civil compensation but their lawyers have asked for the maximum possible penalty and to issue a jail and deportation sentence.
The intensity on the field was palpable. For Al Ain, what hurt the most in a crunch clash like this was their new coach Zlatko Dalic’s reluctance to unleash Omar right from the word go. The team is clearly trying to cocoon Omar, who is coming out of a long injury layoff for the Asian Champions League and the President’s Cup finals.
Dalic said later: “At this moment, Omar can’t play all the games; it was my decision for him to start in the second half. We need to prepare Omar for the Asian Champions League and also the final of the President’s Cup. I can put him from the first minute and then destroy him, but you see what Omar means to my team.”
The absence of medio Mirel Radoi with suspension was also a big blow for the hosts and the forwards didn’t get as many balls as they would have liked upfront in the first half. Alex Brosque and Mohammad Fayez also missed the key contest.
Despite the victory, Olaroiu chose to give the media a skip and Al Ahli assistant coach Catalin Raducan stood in for him. He played down their triumph in an acrimonious game: “There are still six games left and it doesn’t mean anything. We have done nothing until this point and have six difficult games remaining. But I must congratulate my team for playing four matches in 11 days. It was very, very difficult but they showed character. We controlled the game and deserved to win against a strong team. It’s an important step forward.”
Grafite was elated with his and the team’s showing: “It was a great game and we did well. The game was emotional till the last minute and the important thing is we won. To be among the goals was nice and it will be good to keep going this way till the end.”