Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate said Ali Mabkhout was ‘so good he could score against anyone’, after the striker’s lone goal against Urawa Red Diamonds on Saturday put them into a historic Fifa Club World Cup semi-final with Real Madrid.
Wednesday’s last-four showdown with the Spanish giants in Abu Dhabi will be the furthest any UAE club has ever been in the tournament, and Ten Cate sounded thankful to have Mabkhout in his side against the might of Madrid after dispensing off the Asian champions from Japan.
“This guy is so good that he will always find a moment that he can release himself from any opponent and come into a position and score, and he did so,” said the Dutchman of Mabkhout’s 52nd minute winner against Urawa, which came from a one-on-one with the keeper after being thread through by Romarinho.
Regarding Real Madrid clash, he said: “I don’t want to talk about the next opponent, I just want to talk about our achievement today.
“We’re missing five players and couldn’t have done any better but if you look at the results so far, with the teams we’ve played, the only thing to say is that everybody in this country should be proud of this group of players.”
Al Jazira only qualified to this competition as hosts via last season’s UAE league title win, but they have already done away with Oceania champions Auckland 1-0 in last Wednesday’s quarter-final play-off in Al Ain, and now the Asian champions by the same scoreline in the quarters in Abu Dhabi.
“I’ve said it before, we may not have the best players but in terms of team spirit we have the best group. They fight for each other, challenge, and have a big heart,” said the former Barcelona and Chelsea assistant.
“We’re a team that is very difficult to beat and we will fight until the last minute. Again we’ve proven that fighting spirit and the willpower to do something beautiful can bring you very far and I’m proud of that.
“We’ve won the President’s Cup and league championship together and to be honest we haven’t won anything here but the love of the UAE football fans, we are now not only playing for the club but also Abu Dhabi and the UAE.”
With the Urawa victory falling on the coaches’ birthday he said it was the “best ever” present before adding that he let himself go after the game.
“The celebrations were because of my birthday,” he joked. “They threw me in the air. Normally, I don’t fancy these things but for this I made an exception.”
Al Jazira didn’t even make it out of the group stage of the Asian Champions League, which Urawa Red Diamonds went on to win, so this victory was a major upset.
Asked if Al Jazira could afford to be more aggressive in Asia from now on, the coach said: “This is one game and the Champions League is many, we also have home advantage here. Our focus was on winning the local championship last year and not the Champions League because we didn’t have that many players and the team wasn’t ready to compete every three days.
“Now, we are further and the team is physically better. This year we are many steps forward. But let’s wait and see, the Champions League starts in February, so there’s lots of time to think. Let’s first focus on what we are doing right now and the league of course.”
By Ashley Hammond
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