Al Ain: Even the purist of Al Ain fans at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium would have pinched themselves as none could have believed what they had witnessed on Saturday night.
ES Tunis, the champions of the entire continent of Africa, were clearly the firm favourites in their Club World Cup clash with Al Ain. They were given a feel as if they were playing at home by their vocal fans who were flown in for the contest. However, Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic and his wards used their tactics to a tee, to leave their fancied rivals wanting in all departments.
With their confidence now sky high, Al Ain now believe they can go one step further to create history by beating Argentine giants River Plate for a place in the final — most likely against Real Madrid.
Mamic was optimistic about his team springing up another surprise having made it to the semis.
“River Plate is one of the biggest teams in the world with a big history but Al Ain have come into the semi-final of the Club World Cup,” said the Croatian. “We have to enjoy, we have to be proud of the job that we have done as this is not the last thing. We have to try and make it difficult for River. We know the quality of River. I had watched the final game of Boca (Juniors) and River. It is a great team with great individual players and as a team, so we have to be better than today to survive this game.”
Mamic once again stressed that his team need to keep enjoying the moment so that they can continue in a similar vein.
“We have to be happy, focused, motivated,” he said. “I don’t think it is a question of motivation — who doesn’t want to play in the semi-final of the Club World Cup? But all details of the game have to be on the highest level, so that we can maybe make a surprise because River Plate are favourites. But favourites don’t always win.
Mamic’s team strike stunned ES Tunis with a brilliant header from Mohammad Ahmad off a corner early on.
Tunis slipped further into the abyss once Al Ain’s Egyptian striker Hussein El Shahat scored a peach of a goal on 16 minutes. And with Bandar Al Ahbabi scoring off a brilliant release from Brazilian striker Caio, ES Tunis’ fate was sealed.
“Our contest was perfect from first to the last minute. And when the team is focused like what you saw today then the result has to come from the discipline, concentration and focus. I’m really proud of my team,” said a jubilant coach Mamic, who will be all the more delighted with the showing because the performance had come despite the absence of his key midfielder Mohammed Abdul Rahman. Swedish striker Marcus Berg also only came on for the final 10 minutes.
Youngster Rayan Yeslem and Al Ahbabi shone when given their opportunity and Mamic will have selection dilemma going into the semis.
“We have to wait for the next three days to know the situation,” said Mamic. “Berg is better and Ajab (Mohammed Abdul Rahman) will be back as he is a very, very important players for us. But we have to wait and see the situation of the players. We will try to do our best to prepare them for the match.”
ES Tunis manager Mouine Chaabani accepted that his team’s showing was humiliating and they were nowhere close to what they were capable of.
“It’s a very disappointing result, especially when you lose 3-0 as the CAF champions,” he said. “The first goal was the turning point and that was the turning point because we lost focus on the pitch from that point. Then 15 minutes later we conceded another goal and it became even harder for us. In the second half, we opened up the game by adding a third attacker to try and get back into the game but we were unlucky. We had a lot of challenges.”