It was on Dec. 13 last year when, unbelievably, 'Pride of Abu Dhabi' Al Jazira led Real Madrid 1-0 at half-time of the Fifa Club World Cup. The home team lost the semifinal 1-2 to eventual winners from Spain.
But a year later, Al Ain FC, the UAE's most decorated club, will take field against Team Wellington FC in the tournament playoff, with an aim to go one better on Al Jazira's achievement.
Al Ain FC coach Zoran Mamic said his players were ready for debut and represent the UAE at the iconic Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The Croatian has eased pressure on players ahead of the crucial clash.
"I have told them to enjoy the matches as they deserve it as a reward for last season's effort to win the Arabian Gulf League title. I have full faith in my players to achieve our ambitions," Mamic said during a press conference ahead of the match.
The tactician has done his homework and knows the unusual pattern deployed by counterpart Jose Figuiera.
"I have followed their matches and identified their strengths and weaknesses. Their best aspect is in attack with strong wingers and strikers. We have to play with caution because they play in a different way with three in the attack. I am sure they will stick to same pattern against us."
Mamic is wary of terming OFC Champions League winners Wellington, a team of semi-professionals, as 'underdogs'.
"Nothing is impossible in these matches. We have to expect anything from the opposing team. We cannot go into a game and think it will be easy. I am confident my players will be up for the challenge as they don't just represent the club but all of the UAE," Mamic said.
"We will need to fight like the Wellington team, run like the Wellington team, we have to bring team spirit like the Wellington team and then only the quality of Al Ain will come out."
Skipper Ismael Ahmad said the players' morale was high. "We want to uphold the reputation of the UAE football as we represent our home country. Players are aware about the responsibility and will play as one heart to achieve the result. We will follow the guidance of our coach and hopefully qualify to the final stage," Ahmad added.
Meanwhile, Wellington coach Jose Figuiera warned of surprises with an offensive onslaught.
"We are a team of semi-professionals but not scared. We face this challenge as an exciting one," he said about his debutant team, which was formed in 2004.
"We don't get to play in front of big crowds but we have experience of playing in the OFC Champions League. Hopefully we can make the game as big an occasion as possible. There's always a little bit of cat and mouse in the lead-up to the game and hopefully we can spring a few surprises," he said as a counter to Mamic's remarks on Wellington's tactics.
By Ashwani Kumar
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