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.


Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

Updated 11 December 2018
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Ahmed Barman out to toast Al-Ain success in FIFA Club World Cup

  • Tournament gets under way on Wednesday when Al-Ain take on Team Wellington at home.
  • UAE midfielder sure his side can cause a few shocks.

LONDON: While he is only too aware of the quality opposition they have to face, Al-Ain midfielder Ahmed Barman is backing “The Boss” to scare a few teams in the FIFA Club World Cup.
The tournament gets under way when the UAE outfit face Team Wellington on their home ground in the opener today. Last year saw fellow Arabian Gulf League side Al-Jazira reach the semifinal where they gave Real Madrid a huge fright before narrowly losing 2-1. And inspired by that march to the last four, Barman is looking for Al-Ain to go one better and become the first Emirati side to make the final.
“The FIFA Club World Cup is a global competition coveted by every club,” Barman said. “Al-Ahli, Al-Jazira and Al-Wahda participated in this tournament before and did their part, putting the UAE on the world map. We at Al-Ain hope to reach the semi-final, as Al-Jazira did, or do even better.”
Before any tournament it is only natural to dream of glory and lifting the trophy in front of adoring fans. But the midfielder is not getting too cocky, revealing that despite having home advantage Al-Ain are taking absolutely nothing for granted, starting with Wednesday’s clash against the Kiwis.
“There’s no doubt that we’re aiming to reach the final and face a giant like Real Madrid, but first we have to focus on our opening match against Team Wellington,” the 24-year-old said.
“We need to win to progress from this round and play the subsequent games until we reach the final against Real Madrid and show a standard of play the UAE can be proud of.”
Barman is not anticipating an easy opener.
“Team Wellington are a very good team with considerable ability. They won their local league and the OFC Champions League, which proves they’re powerful.
“So, all our focus is on this opening match. We’re annualizing our opponents to understand their capabilities as we prepare to perform well on the pitch and get positive result.”
The UAE champions did not have the best preparation for their stab at Club World Cup glory, losing 5-2 to Al-Wasl in the UAE President’s Cup at the weekend.
That result, while clearly not ideal, has not bothered the side’s coach.
“We cannot win every game, what is gone is gone, it’s full concentration on the match ahead,” Zoran Mamic said.
“There are no rules that Al-Ain cannot lose games, that’s why I don’t make any drama.”
But while Barman was keen to invoke the memory of Al-Jazira’s march to the last four, his boss was less so, telling his team to focus on the match at hand before getting ahead of themselves.
“We are not here to talk about last year, just as we are not here to talk about the future,” the Croatian said. “We are here to represent the club in the best possible way. We focus on the match at hand and everything will take care of itself.”
Of today’s opponents he added: “We have watched all their games, we know their strengths and where they are not so strong. They are particularly good offensively, they play with fast wingers and a striker who is a good scorer, they play a system that is unusual to us because no teams in the Emirates play with three in the last line. If we do our job we will (have) a good match.”