LONDON: For some the opportunity to play in a big final against Real Madrid would be enough, but for Al-Ain star man Marcus Berg only victory against the reigning FIFA Club World Cup champions will be enough.
The UAE side have impressed and shocked in equal measure on their way to an unexpected place in Saturday's final in Abu Dhabi. The only side in the tournament not to be continental champions “The Boss” were one of the underdogs two weeks ago. But victories against Team Wellington, Esperance de Tunis and River Plate have propelled them into the showpiece match against the European giants.
Once again few are giving them much of a chance against Real, but Berg has insisted that the UAE champions can prove they are more than a match for Gareth Bale and Co.
“The team deserve to be in the final,” the Swedish midfielder said.
“Once again we proved the club’s worth to everyone. We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far as our performances have been really impressive.
“We’re in the final on merit.
“This was our dream from the very beginning, from the moment we’d won the UAE league title. But our opponents were all continental champions so, on paper at least, we weren’t expected to get this far in this competition. However, we’ve shown everyone what we can do on the pitch.”
Al-Ain players celebrate after their shock win over River Plate that took them to Saturday's final against Real Madrid.
Such fighting talk is all well and good, but Berg and his Al-Ain teammates’ confidence is more than justified. From the very first match they have been up against it, but overcome every obstacle in their way. That opener against Wellington saw the side go 3-0 down within the first 44 minutes. But they came storming back to draw 3-3 in 90 minutes before going on to win 4-3 in the subsequent penalty shootout.
They then took that momentum into the next clash against the African Champions League winners Esperance, winning 3-0.
That set up a mouth-watering semifinal against the Copa Libertadores champions and Argentine powerhouses River Plate. 2-1 down after 16 minutes the UAE champions came back to draw 2-2 in normal time before once again showing their steel to win 5-4 on penalties.
That clash, as much as anything, illustrates why Real would be wrong to underestimate Al-Ain.
The run to tonight’s final, however, does mean Berg and Co. will start the match with more sets of tired legs than that of their illustrious opponents, who have made the final after just one match, a relatively easy 3-1 win over Kashima Antlers. That is something the Swede is only too aware of.
“We know the final is going to be extremely difficult, but we still aim to win the title,” Berg said.
Marcelo and Co. await Al-Ain in the final. The Champions League winners are going for their fourth FIFA Club World Cup title.
“The difficulty lies in the physical aspect, as we’ve played three games in a short time span, and that might affect us. I’m sure it will be a difficult match, but we need to recover, be positive, and summon all our powers in the final.”
That positivity will be key if Al-Ain are to shock one more time and become the first Middle Eastern team to win the FIFA Club World Cup. But Berg is not ruling anything out, pointing to fellow UAE side Al-Jazira’s close running of Real in last year’s semifinal, a match they lost 2-1 having taken 1-0 lead before half-time.
“Real Madrid are a powerful side full of household names and are certainly favorites,” he said.
“But anything is possible in football. Last year Al-Jazira played well against them here. If we perform well, we might have a chance.”