Al Ain: Rallying from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3 on penalties, Zoran Mamic’s Al Ain created history on Wednesday night. No team has ever comeback from such a position to win a game in the Fifa Club World Cup since its inception, but deep down the purple brigade will know they have been made to do some soul-searching by a team comprising of part-timers.
The victory is undoubtedly a morale-booster, but the effort that they had to put in to regain lost ground in the absorbing 120 minutes duel could have an adverse effect. It will be interesting to see how much they have recovered for the quarter-finals against ES Tunis, the champions of Africa, on Saturday.
Mimic accepted that he and his team had to dig deep to get themselves out of the rut in the post-match briefing. “I think we started the match well. When Wellington scored that unbelievable goal to shock us, we lost stability and lost confidence. They scored two more goals and it was hard to comeback,” said Mimic, adding that, the goal from his Japanese recruit Tsukasa Shiotani gave the hosts a lot of hope going into the break.
“Shiotani’s goal allowed us to come back into the second half strongly. They reacted very well and I know we have quality in the side. Football is like that, sometimes it doesn’t go as we think. In the end we created history with that comeback,” revealed Mamic, whose team also struggled as their key striker Marcus Berg was running high fever and only took to the field with a quarter remaining in play. Berg made an instant impact and was instrumental in scoring the crucial third goal that kept them in the game before forcing the match into the tiebreaker.
“Marcus was fit but last night he had fever and we tried to recover him and also Yahya Nader. We lost two very good players and so I didn’t ask Berg to play in the beginning because maybe, we would had to take him out after 30 minutes. But once he was in, he changed the game with that goal,” said the Croatian.
Khalid Eisa, star of the day with his two saves in the penalties, said he was certain that the team would bounce back.
“I would like to thank Allah for this success. It was difficult to comeback into the match when you are trailing by three goals. And when you do that, then you know you have great players in the team. I noticed that everyone was keen to do so,” said Eisa, who brushed aside that it was a setback that the side was stretched by a semi-professional side.
“This is football and you have to show full respect to the opponent, even if they are not of the same level as us. They put up a good show tactically and played with full concentration. It was a perfect example that one should not take the opponent lightly. Their players also showed spirit to get those three goals but in the end we came back and won and that is important,” added Eisa, who was adjudged the Player of the Match for his efforts under the bar.
Wellington coach Jose Figueira, meanwhile, was of the view that his side gave it everything and they were going out of the tournament with their heads held high.
“In any game to give up a three-goal lead is disappointing. I have to apologise to my players as I asked so much of them and pushed them to the limits. We wanted to come here and play the way we know, that is to try and press hard and cause problems on the attacks. I sit here feeling that we have done everything we possibly could. Certainly, no regrets,” said Figueria.
“Yes, when you get to penalties it is a little bit about luck. It’s about small movements and fortunately the movements fell for them in the penalty shoot-out. It is certainly the hardest way to lose but for us it is probably an even bigger motivation to comeback and perform here and go one better.”