Al Ain: ‘Khalid Eisa is the hero as Al Ain stun Copa Libertadores winners 5-4 on penalties’ read the headline on British newspaper The Sun’s website.
Never before would have a UAE player got such world recognition. Eisa made waves around the world after his brilliant save to deny Enzo Perez and send Argentine top club and Copa Libertadores Champions River Plate crashing out of the Fifa Club World Cup semi finals to hand Al Ain a historic berth in the final.
“I felt I was going to save it,” said Eisa, who had also pulled off two top-notch stops in the opener to defeat Oceania Champions Wellington in a shoot-out. “I had not analysed River Plate’s penalties, but I felt the last penalty would be on my left side. That’s why I went that way and thank God I saved it.”
Last year, Al Jazira’s goalkeeper Ali Khasief produced some show-stopping saves against Real Madrid in the Club World Cup semi-finals but the might of the Spanish giants proved too good in the end.
Eisa believes now that the purple brigade have done the impossible, they can dream high and even go on to win the coveted trophy.
“It’s a great result for the UAE,” he said. “We have reached the final and so we will try our best. Now we’re going to try to win it, we have nothing else to aim for. If we have reached the final we will try to win. Why not? It will be difficult, but if there is a chance we have to aim high.”
Eisa felt this success also erased the pain of Al Ain losing the AFC Champions League final to South Korean club Jeonbuk 3-2 on aggregate in 2016.
“For me, this is the best moment in Al Ain, because in 2016 I lost the Champions League final, so this is the best moment for me,” he said. “Hopefully we can complete this,” said Eisa, who also bagged the Player of the Match award for his heroics.
The 29-year-old felt that either Real or fellow semi-finalists Kashima Antlers of Japan will be a tough opponents in the clash for title.
“For me, both are difficult for us,” he said. “We will try to enjoy, we will try to do our best. And whoever wins you will say ‘Congratulations.”
Eisa was supported in the win over River Plate by his resolute defence, led by captain Esmail Ahmad as Al Ain soaked up the River Plate pressure with tremendous resilience.
“It’s certainly the realisation of a big dream,” Ahmad told Fifa.com. “We’re proud of this achievement, but the ultimate goal of winning this title still remains.
“It wasn’t easy for us to reach the final. In the opener we played for 120 minutes, then we had a big game against Esperance. And this was the third match in a very short space of time. Despite this, our players performed extremely well in all three games, which is not easy to do.”
Ahmad added that River Plate played very much like a powerful club and showed all the characteristics of Latin American football, but were not clinical in front of goal.
“They’re good at keeping possession and have great technical skills, but we didn’t notice a big difference between their level and that of the other teams,” said Ahmad, adding that defeating Oceania, Africa and South America champions has given Al Ain tremendous belief and they now fear no one.
“Regardless of whether we play Real Madrid or Kashima in the final, it’ll be 11 versus 11. At this level, there’s no big and small teams. The game itself will ultimately decide matters, and the morale of the players is the most important thing. I therefore thank my teammates for all their hard work during the 120 minutes.”