Abu Dhabi: ‘Local team,’ that’s how the Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane or his star-studded players addressed their opponents in the run-up to the semi-finals. But by the end of 90 minutes, Al Jazira made sure the European champions remembered who they were playing against.
They wouldn’t be forgetting The Pride of Abu Dhabi’s custodian either — the peerless Ali Khaseif, whom they couldn’t breach till the time he was there on the field.
In the end, Real Madrid, who will play Brazil’s Gremio in the Club World Cup final on Saturday, had to rally back from a goal down to defeat the Arabian Gulf League champions 2-1.
Like a man possessed, Khaseif pulled off numerous outstanding saves, which he rated as ‘one of the historical matches’ that he has every played in his life.
“I have figured in so many matches but this is the most memorable one. It is a story that I can tell my kids and generations to come,” said Khaseif in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.
The 30-year-old has valid reasons to put this achievement above all the laurels he has won to date, because his exceptional performance has come against one of the powerhouses in world football.
“It is one of the best moments that I have played as it has come against the best club team in the world — Real Madrid. We all know they have the best strikers in the world. I believe they are going to win the title here,” said Khaseif who hailed his team for the spirit they showed.
“I can’t be more proud of my team. We didn’t have any expectations from the match. We didn’t think about anything but the aim was just to challenge ourselves. We went in thinking whatever may be the result, we should just focus on our game,” added the skipper, who went on to reveal that the team was on a mission as everyone had written them off completely.
“We also heard a lot of people saying that the result would be humiliating. They said we will be losing 3-0 or maybe even 4-0. But we all challenged ourselves and ended up with this position and finished stronger in this match. We have proved our worth to the UAE.”
Real’s match-winner Gareth Bale also was all praise for Khaseif, saying he was simply ‘amazing’.
It was clearly a painstaking affair for Real to get through to the final and they had a staggering 36 shots on goal with 14 of those on target.
“He (Khaseif) made some amazing saves and we were kind of joking a bit on the bench, then it started to get a bit more serious,” said Bale, acknowledging that their little-known opponents had made them earn a hard-fought victory.
“Look, he and the entire team made it difficult for us. I think we had a lot of chances. There are days when the ball doesn’t go into the goal and on another day we could score seven,” said Bale.
Khaseif made at least four stunning saves on efforts from Real star Cristiano Ronaldo. The best was deflecting a power-packed header from the latter onto the bar then showing quick reflexes to keep out the attempts from Luka Modric and Karim Benzema.
The one that went in from Benzema was also ruled out for a push by Ronaldo. Then the one that finally went in off a Casemiro’s header looping over Khaseif was ruled invalid following a review for off-side.
Social media was abuzz with congratulatory messages for Khaseif, with many praying for his speedy recovery ahead of the third place clash after seeing him limp out mid-way through the second session.
With so much spirit within the team, another absorbing contest is on the cards when Al Jazira meet Mexican club Pachuca in their third place play-off on Saturday.