Al Ain: Al Ain pulled off one of the greatest upsets in football history on Tuesday, beating South American champions River Plate 5-4 on penalties in the semi-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium.
Keeper Khalid Eisa was the hero saving Enzo Perez’ fifth and final penalty after everyone else had scored following a 2-2 draw in normal time.
It sets the Boss up for an unprecedented trip to the final at Zayed Sports City on Saturday where they will play the winners of Wednesday’s second semi-final between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers.
Whatever happens in the final this is already the greatest achievement in UAE football history.
Marcus Berg put the hosts ahead early but two goals from Santos Borre restored order soon after. Caio Lucas then equalised after the break and Gonzalo Martinez missed a penalty to send the game into extra-time and penalties.
Al Ain got this far by beating Wellington 4-3 on penalties in last Wednesday’s play-off, and ES Tunis 3-0 in Saturday’s quarter.
River, meanwhile, had a bye to the semis due to their seeding as the Copa Libertadores champions, achieved by beating arch-rivals Boca Juniors 3-1 in last Sunday’s final in Madrid.
Berg headed in an in-swinging corner from Ahmad Barman on three minutes to put Al Ain in front.
Martinez then hit the side-netting with a long shot, before Borre equalised on 11 minutes by getting a touch on a shot by Lucas Pratto, who was following up on his earlier spilled attempt.
Borre added his second five minutes later after curling in Martinez’s cross. The latter ran the length of the wing and crossed after intercepting a Mohammad Fayez’s midfield pass.
Up the other end Hussain Al Shahat had a curler kept out by keeper Franco Armani before the half hour after a fumbled corner found its way to the Egyptian.
Tongo Doumbia also hit over from close range for Al Ain and Berg headed wide from a corner as the home side went in search of an equaliser.
That equaliser appeared to come on 46 minutes when Al Shahat slotted home from Mohammad Abdul Rahman’s cross knocked on by Berg, but the effort was ruled offside after a VAR review.
Al Ain fans needn’t have felt disheartened for long however as the equaliser eventually did come after the break on 51 minutes when Caio struck into the bottom corner after a quick one-two off the wing by Tsukasa Shiotani.
River Plate could have won it on 69 minutes but Martinez hit the crossbar from a penalty, following Mohammad Ahmad’s shove on Milton Casco in the box.
Late in the second half of extra-time Mohammad Ahmad came agonisingly close after getting a touch on the end of a free-kick. That sent the game into penalties.
With this achievement Al Ain have beaten Al Jazira’s record for the furthest a UAE side has gone in this competition.
Al Jazira also made the last four and scored first before an admirable 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid last year, they then lost 4-1 to Pachuca in the third place play-off.