Al Ain readies to welcome Fifa Club World Cup

By Angel Chan

AL AIN 18  December 2018: Having hosted three mesmerising Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018 matches, Al Ain will stage its final games of the tournament on Tuesday, before the competition switches to Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi city, the UAE capital.

Match day crowds of 15,279 and over 21,000 have flocked to Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain for the first two game days, where 14 goals have been scored by the respective club champions of Africa, Asia, North America and the UAE – a record at this stage of the competition in its current eight-game format.

Attention now turns to Tuesday’s final two games in the Garden City. First, the two losing second-round teams – Mexico’s CD Guadalajara representing CONCACAF, and CAF Champions League winners, Tunisia’s Espérance Sportive de Tunis – will contest a fifth-place play-off. The game kicks off at 17.30 UAE time.

“Al Ain has proven its capacity to host world-class football and the fans are responding by getting their tickets and attending the matches – the spirit of the game is thriving in Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE,” said Salem Al Sulaimani, Director of Operations, Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018 Local Organising Committee.

After their tame surrender to Al Ain FC in the second round on Saturday, Espérance Sportive de Tunis coach Moine Chaabani is determined to end the tournament on a positive note and restore pride across the African continent.

“We are working on the mental aspects and what went wrong in the last game to release the pressure from the players and allow them to perform.” said Chaabani. “They produced a great effort to get here and we want to leave on a positive note.”

Esperance defender, Ayman Ben Mohamed, added: “I don’t think the same team that won the CAF Champions League turned up for the match against Al Ain. The match against Guadalajara is an important match to restore pride and to make the fans happy and make their trip worthwhile.”

His opposing number, CD Guadalajara coach Jose Cardozo, is also aiming to finish the tournament on a high: “The players are still feeling the pain of defeat against Kashima Antlers, but they aren’t down. We are playing for our prestige and it is a good chance for us to get revenge, we want to close our time in Al Ain in the best possible way.
“It will be difficult, but it is continent against continent and we really want to win, we believe we can win.”

Tuesday’s second match at an expected sold-out Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium will see tournament hosts Al Ain FC take on Copa Libertadores champions Club Atletico River Plate, the CONMEBOL representatives, in the tournament’s first semi-final showdown.
Al Ain go into the match having scored six goals in 210 minutes of Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018 action, while River Plate are making their first appearance in this year’s competition. The match kicks off at 20.30 UAE time. And having seen off two continental champions the host team are keen to make it a hat-trick with their biggest scalp yet.

“Al Ain is a great club with great history in this part of the world, but on the world map, maybe not as big as Real Madrid or River Plate. This is a great opportunity to write history,” said the Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic. “It will be very, very hard for us against River Plate, that’s why we have to work harder than ever. I don’t think Al Ain has played against such a strong team in a competitive match that’s why we have to use this opportunity to enjoy, to celebrate every point.”

“The atmosphere in the group is good, everybody wants to be in the team, that doesn’t make it easy for me, but that’s the job of the coach. I hope I can pick 11 warriors to produce a good game. We have to be more focused, more aggressive than ever, to show our spirit, great fight. It’s not about doing anything different, it’s about scoring more goals than River Plate,” added the coach.

Ahead of their Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018 bow, River Plate coach Marcelo Gallardo is not underestimating the tournament’s surprise package.

“Al Ain will have a lot of good feelings, as the host team, having qualified for the semi-final and have performed well. But it is a beautiful feeling for us to be playing in the semi-final of the Fifa Club World Cup and we want to take advantage of that,” said Gallardo. “Our aim is to play in the final and to win this tournament.”

River Plate defender Jonatan Maidana said the South American champions are wary of the attacking threat of the host team Al Ain, but the team is eager to make its mark on the world stage.

“We have to be careful, we know from midfield to attack they are fast and have tall players and are good in the air, we have to be aware of that. We will show them respect but we are used to playing strong teams. We have happiness as a team after winning the Copa and we know what we want to achieve here,” said Maidana.

Dubai Gazette