Oman  and Wigan Athletic  goalkeeper Ali Al Habsi  has spoken of his pride at the prospect of becoming the first Arab to start in an English FA Cup  final after a 2-0 semi-final win over Millwall on Saturday.
If selected, the 31-year-old shot-stopper will face either Manchester City in the final to be played at Wembley on May 11. It would make him only the second Arab to appear in the final of the 142-year-old competition, since French-born Algerian international Nadir Belhadj came on as a 81st minute substitute for Portsmouth against Chelsea in 2010.
But having lost his place in the Latic’s starting XI for the past three English Premier League matches to 22-year-old Atletico Madrid loanee Joel Rubles, nothing is guaranteed for the 2009 Gulf Cup and five-time golden glove winner.
Al Habsi told Gulf News after the semi-final: “I’m delighted with the result in what is the biggest and oldest competition in world football. This is a very special moment for me, the club and the fans, and it’s a great achievement to be one of the first Arabs in the final.
“This is a moment all Arabs, especially Omanis can be proud of. This is for everyone in the Middle East,” added the former Lyn Oslo and Bolton Wanderers stopper, who started his career in Oman with Al Mudhaibi and Salahah’s Al Nasr.
“It’s a huge thing for me, having won and lost Cup finals in Oman and Norway, to now play in an English FA Cup final is great for my long-term future. To have come from the Omani third division to the final of the oldest cup competition in the world makes me so happy.
“It’s also great for young players in the Middle East to see if Ali can make it anyone can. You have to be strong, come to Europe and believe me, to reach this moment has taken a long time but it’s worth all the hard work.”
Of Wigan coach Roberto Martinez’ decision to drop him following a 4-0 home loss to Liverpool last month, with Rubles taking the gloves for 2-1 and 1-0 home wins over Newcastle and Norwich, before a 1-1 away draw with QPR, Al Habsi added: “It was the manager’s decision and I have to be professional. I didn’t play the last three games but I have just played the biggest game in this club’s history and I kept a clean sheet.
“I’m very happy for the club and I respect the decision of the manager. I was really focused and did the job. Everyone has to be ready for every game.”
Of the prospect of either Chelsea or Manchester City in the final, Ali, who asked his mum to pray for a Cup final appearance after taking her to watch the 2010 final, said: “I don’t care who we face in the final, you have to expect a difficult game whether it’s City or Chelsea. Whoever we face we go in with confidence to go there and make something special and do ourselves proud.”
Wigan are currently level with Sunderland on 31 points in the English Premier League, three points deep into the relegation zone with seven games remaining, but Al Habsi is optimistic: “We should be stronger now as a result of the cup run. This gives us the confidence we need in the remaining league games and in the cup we’ve got something to look forward to, we’ll just enjoy ourselves and try to win to get the chance of playing in Europe next season.”