Al-Jazira’s chance of glory

Al-Jazira players celebrate their win against Urawa Reds, the victory that got them through to the FIFA World Club Cup semi-final against Real Madrid. (Reuters)
Updated 12 December 2017
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Al-Jazira’s chance of glory

DUBAI: Only Barcelona and Manchester United would be able to mount any kind of argument against the statement that Real Madrid is the biggest club in the world.
Whatever your opinion there can be no denying that the name screams glamor, excitement, tradition and history. And tomorrow this global titan will be sharing a pitch with Al-Jazira in the semifinals of the FIFA Club World Cup. If you can’t get excited about playing the most successful team in the history of European football then you might as well go home.
Al-Jazira are home and are tasked with sending the Spaniards back to the Bernabeu empty-handed. If they were to succeed it would of course be a major shock. They are not just playing for the glory of Abu Dhabi or even just the United Arab Emirates but for the whole of Asia. Nobody is expecting a win but they can do a great deal for the reputation of the continental scene.
It is fair to say that ‘the East’ does not have the best of records in the competition. This is despite the fact that the tournament has usually taken place in Asia, which means, as well as home advantage, it has a numerical one with two horses in the race as opposed to one for every other confederation.
There have been a number of appearances in the last four but usually the presence of the South American or European champions has proven to be an insurmountable hurdle. That changed a year ago and Kashima Antlers went on to give Real Madrid a real scare in the final.
After Karim Benzema gave the Europeans an early lead, almost 70,000 fans at Yokohama International Stadium prepared themselves for an onslaught, but goals from Gaku Shibasaki either side of half-time put Kashima in the lead.
Suddenly, we were faced with the prospect of a team that had not even won the AFC Champions League becoming world champions. A hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo put paid to such dreams but they were pleasant while they lasted.
Now it is time for Al-Jazira to dream. The 1-0 win over Urawa Reds at the weekend was a fine performance against a team that defeated Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal in the final of the 2017 AFC Champions League in November.
What impressed against the Japanese team was the sheer hard work of the UAE outift.
“We might not have the best players,” said Al-Jazira boss Henk Ten Cate after the win. “but in team spirit, I have the best team. They fight for each other, they challenge and they have a big heart. We are a team that is very difficult to beat and we will fight until the last minute.”
It was not a million miles from the win by the same scoreline against Auckland City in the previous round. The losers had plenty of possession but just couldn’t get the goal against a hard-working team that took their chance when it came.
“It was proven that a good spirit and a fighting spirit and the willpower to do something good can bring you very far,” the Dutchman added.
Every drop of that spirit will be necessary once again but by itself that won’t be enough to defeat the 12-time European champions. It will need Al-Jazira’s biggest star to be firing on all cylinders.
The signs are good as Ali Mabkhout scored the only goal of the game against Urawa. The 27-year-old striker has been in excellent form. Wednesday is not just a chance to collect some Asian pride but an opportunity for one of the continent’s top strikers to put himself in the middle of the global stage and perhaps the shop window.
It was hoped that he would get a chance to parade his talents at the 2018 World Cup. That is not going to happen as the UAE fell by the wayside on the road to Russia. Mabkhout has not stopped scoring however. Last season he netted 33 times in 25 league games.
A goal or two against the biggest club around and he may get the big move that he deserves and give Asian football its biggest ever club result.


“Captain fantastic” Harry Kane to the rescue as England beat Tunisia at the death

Updated 53 min 34 sec ago
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“Captain fantastic” Harry Kane to the rescue as England beat Tunisia at the death

  • Harry Kane came to the rescue with two goals, the second a dramatic injury-time winner
  • England had started brightly in a blur of passing and movement and could have been two goals up inside the first four minutes

VOLGOGRAD, Russia: Captain Harry Kane came to the rescue with two goals, the second a dramatic injury-time winner, as England began their World Cup Group G campaign with a stuttering 2-1 win over Tunisia on Monday.
Gareth Southgate’s men almost paid a heavy price for missing a slew of first-half chances when Tunisia’s Ferjani Sassi slotted home a softly-awarded penalty 20 minutes before half-time.
And the north Africans were still level as the game went past the 90-minute mark.
But Harry Maguire won a header from a corner and Kane was on hand at the far post to nod in the winner before being mobbed by his ecstatic teammates.
“I’m so proud of the lads,” Kane said. “They kept going, kept going to the last second.
“I am absolutely buzzing, everyone on the staff is. It shows good character to get the job done.”
England had started brightly in a blur of passing and movement and could have been two goals up inside the first four minutes.
First Jordan Henderson’s lofted first-time pass released Dele Alli and when the ball eventually broke to Jesse Lingard he saw his shot from six yards saved by the outstretched left boot of Mouez Hassen in the Tunisia goal.
Kane had been kept quiet in the opening salvos but he exploded into action in the 11th minute when he cut inside from the left and saw his shot from the edge of the box deflected wide for a corner.
Ashley Young delivered the set piece for John Stones to rise highest and meet with a powerful header. Hassen saved acrobatically but Kane was on hand to tap home the rebound with his right foot and open his World Cup account.
Hassen, who had injured his left shoulder making an earlier save, could not continue and left the field in tears as he was replaced in goal by Farouk Ben Mustapha.
England continued to press and were made to pay for not converting a succession of chances when they conceded a soft penalty.
Kyle Walker swung a lazy arm across Fakhreddine Ben Youssef who fell as if poleaxed and Colombian referee Wilmar Roldan pointed to the spot, with his decision being upheld by the VAR.
Ferjani Sassi took one step and fired home confidently past the hitherto unemployed Jordan Pickford and Tunisia who had been outplayed for the first half-hour were somehow level 10 minutes before half-time.
Still there was time for Lingard to come close again twice, first from a goalbound shot and then a dink over the keeper which agonizingly struck the post.
Alli too hit the woodwork with a header and England went into half-time wondering how they had not sealed victory already.
England still enjoyed the lion’s share of possession but could not find the same zip and penetration they had enjoyed at the start of the first half.
The ineffective Sterling gave way to Marcus Rashford with just over 20 minutes to go and the Manchester United man almost fashioned a chance straight away with a jinking run into the box.