Al Ain: The task is Herculean but the reward is unprecedented — a Fifa Club World Cup final and possible clash with Spanish heavyweights Real Madrid. No UAE team have ever done that and it should spur hosts Al Ain to go all out in their semi-final contest against Argentine giants River Plate at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday. The action starts at 8.30pm.
The purple brigade have simply grown in confidence after their hard-fought win on penalties after trailing 3-0 against Team Wellington. They then gave plenty of assurance to the fans by pulling out a resounding 3-0 win to see off CAF Champions League winners ES Tunis in the quarters.
Despite this, ‘The Boss’ are still the underdogs going into the contest as they haven’t bossed their way into the tournament by being continental champions. Their presence is due to the fact they are the hosts and winners of the Arabian Gulf League.
But what one has to understand is that coach Zoran Mamic comes from the same breed as his predecessor — Zlatko Dalic, the man who led Croatia to the Fifa World Cup final in Russia and stunned the world earlier this year. Like Dalic, Mamic is also a shrewd tactician and will definitely have plenty of tricks up his sleeves. Facing a charged-up squad with a dream platform to relish and plenty of fans to egg them on, River will have plenty on their plates to handle to get across the line.
“It will be a great match and a great opportunity for Al Ain to write history,” said a confident-looking Mamic. “We have played a good tournament so far but we want to show more. Of course we have to respect our opponents as they are a great team with a lot of quality.”
Mamic added it will be hard for his team and they will have to work harder than ever before to stop their mighty rivals.
“We have to use this opportunity to learn, enjoy and celebrate every point of the match,” he said. “It is 11 against 11 and we will fight against River with all weapons we have — cleverness, spirit, energy that comes with football and in the end, if they still win we will say: ‘Bravo you played better’.”
Mamic has selection dilemma as he has a fit and full squad at his disposal going into the crucial fixture.
“On one side it is nice but on the other side, it is hard as you have so many players to choose from,” he said. “Everyone wants to play in a contest like this. I will however be choosing the best 11 warriors to make a good game.”
Mamic is all too aware of the fact that River Plate have amazing fire power up front and his defence will have to be on high alert.
“We have to be more aggressive, concentrate hard and increase our level,” he said. “When we do this, everything is possible. It doesn’t mean that if we do all that River will not find a way to score goal as they are an excellent team.”
Mamic revealed that Swedish striker Marcus Berg has fully recovered from illness and is good to go.
“Berg has lost a lot of energy but he is feeling better for the past couple of days,” said the Al Ain boss. “He was part of the team for some time in the last match as well and if everything is good he will be the part of the team’s scheme of things tomorrow.”
Al Ain midfielder Rayan Yaslam, who was simply exceptional in the last match against ES Tunis and was involved in all three goals, said that all the players are raring to go.
“We are representing our country and it is against a big team like River Plate but we have the ambition to do well,” he said. “We want to put in all our efforts to perform well. Of course, playing matches in every two days will make anybody exhausted but the ambition and spirit we have has helped us to recover well. Hopefully, the two day’s rest was enough to play a big team like River Plate.”