Al Ahli coach Cosmin Olaroiu was looking forward to the prospect of a local derby with Al Ain in the last 16 of the AFC Champions League after a late rally saw the Dubai side reach the knockout stages for the first time.
The Romanian had made a first knockout stage appearance the club's main goal of the campaign but it looked an unlikely target when they trailed Iran's Tractor Sazi 2-1 at home on Tuesday with only 14 minutes remaining.
However, Ahmed Khalil came up trumps, scoring two late headers after an otherwise underwhelming performance by the United Arab Emirates striker to snatch a 3-2 win and the Group D runners-up spot.
"Thank God we qualified," Olaroiu was quoted as saying by UAE daily The National. "This was a good game to watch on TV in the stadium but not on the bench.
We accomplished the most important target this season and I'd like to congratulate my players and everyone connected to the club.
"It wasn't easy with all the problems we've had, but thank God in the end we got what we wanted." Ahli qualified at the expense of Uzbek side Nasaf, who wasted several chances in their goalless draw at home to Saudi Arabia's Al Ahli, who had already assured top spot.
Nasaf striker Ilkhom Shomurodov had a particularly difficult night as the draw left the Uzbeks level with Olaroiu's side on eight points but Ahli progressed courtesy of a better head-to-head record.
Ahli, Arabian League champions in 2014, will likely play Al Ain in the last 16, providing the recently crowned domestic league winners avoid defeat at home to Iran's Naft Tehran in Group B on Wednesday.
For Olaroiu, who won two domestic championships with Al Ain before switching to the Dubai side in 2013, it was a clash to eagerly anticipate.
"Any time Al Ahli and Al Ain face each other it's a big game and it's also a good thing because we won't have to travel too much," the Romanian, who oversaw Saudi Arabia's group stage exit at the Asian Cup in January, told Sport360.
Elsewhere on Tuesday, last year's runners-up Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia grabbed top spot in Group C after they beat Qataris Al Sadd 2-1 in Riyadh.
A 70th minute Mohammed Kasola own goal handed Hilal victory but Al Sadd, winners of the ACL in 2011, also qualified for the last 16 as runners-up.