Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira have a fantastic future with the crop of youngsters that have got them through to Wednesday’s dream Fifa Club World Cup semi-final with Real Madrid, according to the club’s keeper coach Manuel Almunia.
In the absence of key players like former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra and UAE striker Ahmad Khalil, the defending Arabian Gulf League champions have been struggling this season and are fifth in the table.
But in the Fifa Club World Cup however — which they qualified to as champions of the host nation — their reserves have stepped up to the mark and the Pride of Abu Dhabi are now through to the semis after having beaten Auckland and Urawa both 1-0 in the play-off and quarter-final.
“Last season we could repeat the team that made good results,” the former Arsenal shot-stopper told Goal.com. “This year we had many casualties, many injuries.
“It’s difficult but the young people who came on the pitch are surprising everybody. They are doing fantastic. Al Jazira with these kids has a fantastic future.
“It’s a great moment for us; we’re living a dream,” added the man who played over 100 games under Arsene Wenger in North London between 2004 and 2012.
“In such a small country, football is not a big, big sport and we made a big effort to be in the semi-final. I still cannot believe that.
“The main thing that we have is passion; the heart we have to play. The effort we make all together on the pitch is the secret.
“Technically we are good but not as good as the Japanese team or Auckland City,” he said of his side’s opponents so far.
“But we play with passion, with high intensity and this is our secret. I don’t think Real Madrid will be afraid of us. We will do the same. We will play with high intensity, with massive effort from everybody.
“This game is a trophy for us already. It’s a game to remember for everyone; an opportunity to play 90 minutes against one of the biggest in the world. This wouldn’t happen to too many people here. It will be a great day despite the result.”
Gremio v Pachuca, 9pm
Al Jazira v Real Madrid, 9pm