Al Ain: “The greatest achievement in UAE football” is what dumbfounded Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic has dubbed his side’s shock 5-4 penalty shoot-out win over South American champions River Plate in Tuesday’s Fifa Club World Cup semi-final.
“It must be the greatest achievement, the biggest result in the history of this country and Al Ain’s, I’m proud to be part of this success,” said the Croatian. Khaled Eisa saved Enzo Perez’s fifth and final penalty after it ended 2-2 in normal time.
Santos Borre quickly cancelled Marcus Berg’s third minute opener on 11 and 16 minutes, before Lucas Caio equalised after the break.
Gonzalo Martinez then hit the crossbar from a penalty after the hour to send it into extra time and penalties.
It sets up a final between either Real Madrid or Kashima Antlers at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi from 8.30pm on Saturday.
“Before this game I thought I knew something about football but now I’m not so sure,” added Mamic.
“At the draw all the press were telling me we had a chance to play Real in the final and I was like: ‘first we have to play’, but maybe media and journalists know better football than me.”
After beating Wellington 4-3 on penalties in the play-off and ES Tunis 3-0 in the quarter to get this far, Mamic added: “We showed that anything is possible in football when you believe, when you fight, support each other, respect each other, anything is possible and I’m very, very proud.
“We’ve played five games in 15 days and I was scared the players would stop, I also knew the individual quality of one player could decide it. Thank God that didn’t happen, it went to penalties, we had a bit of luck, concentrated and believed we can win, and it showed.
“It was incredible work from my players, their energy, love for football and spirit and support for each other was unbelievable, they deserve and should enjoy this moment.
“We now have four days to recover and use in the best possible way, because what’s ahead will be very, very hard for us.”
If they meet Real it would be an all-Croatian final of sorts with Ballon d’Or winning World Cup finalist Luka Modric on the opposing side.
“What a year for Croatia, second in the World Cup, Luka the best in the world and now Al Ain make the Club World Cup final with Croatian coaching staff.
“I don’t know if you know but there are 14 Croatian members of staff at Al Ain. That’s a great thing for such a small country. It’s also great for Al Ain and this country, our fans were great for us tonight and I hope they will be with us in the final and together we can make our dream come true.”
Interestingly Croatia, like Al Ain who beat Wellington in the play-offs on penalties, also won two penalty shoot-outs against Denmark and Russia on their way to the final this summer before defeat to France.
“I hope we’re not like Croatia because they lost in the final and we don’t want to lose in the final. But for the first time in their history Croatia reached the World Cup final and now we have reached the Club World Cup final, it must be the talk of sport, the greatest thing that has ever happened.”