Photo creditThe Al Jazira players celebrate with the trophy during the presentation of AGL match against Al Dhafra at Mohammad Bin Zayed stadium at Al Jazira Sports Club in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Photo: Abdul Rahman/Gulf News (story: Prashant)
Abu Dhabi: The Pride of Abu Dhabi — Al Jazira — under leadership of the experienced stalwart Henk Ten Cate will be stepping into the Hazza Bin Zayed stadium on Wednesday with a lot of optimism.
The hosts’ Fifa Club World Cup opening fixture against New Zealand’s Auckland City, in front of home fans, is a huge platform for the boys — a dream-come-true moment for the players but they cannot afford to get overawed by the situation.
To compound the home team’s woes, Ten Cate’s final list for the mega event shows two key names missing — Lassana Diarra, Jazira’s marquee summer signing and UAE’s highly reputed striker Ahmad Khalil.
The French international, whose previous clubs include Real Madrid, Chelsea, Arsenal and Marseille, has been a disappointment and has spent most of the time on the sidelines with recurring injuries.
Khalil, however, will be missing in action for reasons still unknown. The news that last came out from the camp was that the striker was keen on returning to his former Dubai Club — the revamped Shabab Al Ahli Dubai outfit.
In Khalil’s absence, Al Jazira will be heavily relying on their ace striker Ali Mabkhout, who will have Brazilian Romário Ricardo da Silva ‘Romarinho’ for company upfront.
Romarinho’s presence is a huge plus as he not only has the experience of playing the Club World Cup but also was the part of Brazilian team Corinthians which won the title in 2012 beating Chelsea.
The supply job will be on the reliable shoulders of Moroccan attacking midfielder Mbark Boussoufa and Usbek recruit Sardor Rashidov. The defence will be led by the experienced Mohammad Fawzi, who also has played against the same opponents when he was with Al Ahli in 2009. Guarding the citadel will be the ever-reliable national team goalkeeper Ali Khaseif.
“We are proud to be in this tournament. It is the first and may be the last time that we compete in this tournament, but we are really looking forward to it and hope to continue in this tournament,” said Ten Cate on the eve of the contest, adding that though they are playing in Al Ain, it is not like their home.
“To be honest, Al Ain is not home for us but the advantage is that we will hopefully have a very big home crowd to support us. On the other hand, they (Auckland City) have been in Al Ain for a week now,” revealed Ten Cate, who rated his opponents as a very competitive side.
“Our main target is tomorrow’s game first. In football, anything can happen. Football is the only sport where even the best team can lose and for young players it is going to be a fantastic experience.”
Auckland City’s Spanish coach Ramon Tribulietx refused to take Al Jazira lightly. “Al Jazira is a team of talented players with highly artistic and physical abilities and overcoming them will certainly not be easy. It will require great effort from my boys throughout the game. We will have to focus and be cautious to avoid mistakes,” said Tribulietx, whose team landed in the UAE on the back of a tremendous run of form in their national league — ISPS Handa Premiership where they are at the top of the standings.
“My team has played a number of Arab clubs before and I feel the players here have lot of individual skills and we will need to have a strong defence. We will have to make sure we control the ball and not allow them to manoeuvre in our area and that would require a lot of effort,” asserted Tribulietx.
The action starts at 9pm local time and will be telecast live on BeIn Sports.