Every fairy tale has an end. The Emirati club of Al-Ain has stunned the world with their qualification for the Club World Cup final. For a few days in the whole of the Arab world, it seemed that there is one fairy tale that can simply keep on going.
With their heroic comeback against Team Wellington from New Zealand, the decisive victory against Mexican club Chivas and the unbelievable draw & penalty shootout victory against South American champions River Plate - and before Al-Ain’s clash with the European champions, the eternal obsession and passion of almost every Arab sports fan and current club world champions Real Madrid, the hype was up in the sky.
On Saturday evening at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, A-Za’im were ready to play their biggest match ever, in what was a historical moment for Emirati club football. Playing against Real Madrid in a final for an official title is something no other UAE club has done so far.
In the game itself, the level differences were quickly noticed, as Madrid has gone on the scoreboard after 13 minutes thanks to Luka Modric’s goal. Yet - Al-Ain hasn’t collapsed. Zoran Mamic’s players were well organised in their positions and went out for dangerous counter attacks. Along the match, you couldn’t tell Al-Ain is not a medium or a small scale team from Italy or Spain, as regardless the result, they kept fighting.
Al-Ain conceded three more from Marcos Llorente, Sergio Ramos & an own goal by Yahia Nader, but managed to get one back thanks to a nice header by the Japanese Tsukasa Shiotani.
Besides the fact that every clash between a Middle Eastern team to the Spanish giant is accompanied by surreal anticipation and expectations by the audience, and despite the loss, this time Al-Ain has actually nailed an outstanding achievement.
As a team who got the chance to participate in the event only because it was played in the UAE where they are the reigning champions, Al-Ain has enjoyed a great boost in its reputation as a club within a short time.
This upgrade hasn’t passed on the players themselves. Brazilian Caio was voted the second best player in the tournament, and by different reports is already attracting attention from different European teams; Goalkeeper Khaled Eissa was spectacular throughout the whole tournament, winning two penalty shootouts sessions; Egyptian Hussein El-Shahat was immensely lethal, Marcus Berg’s presence is still in European calibers and even Mohamed Abdulrahman, Amoory’s less talented brother, showed leadership and qualities that made many to think who’s the better footballer in the family.
All in all, the Club World Cup was great practice for the UAE before the forthcoming Asian Cup that will kick start in less than two weeks. In addition, Al-Ain has made a great name for the club and for football in the gulf. After this Club World Cup, there are million of kids worldwide who know there’s a city called Al-Ain