Al Jazira gain respect of the world in valiant 2-1 defeat to Real Madrid

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Al Jazira may have lost the game, but they earned respect against Real Madrid.

The game of their lifetimes, or the grandest occasion in the history of UAE football.

For one, cherished, night only, Al Jazira took to the field at a fevered Zayed Sports City as direct competitors to Real Madrid. Such are the wonderful vagaries of the Club World Cup.

Undaunted, they even led for 53 incredible, intoxicating minutes of an engrossing semi-final full of surprises. Brazilian forward Romarinho – a 2012 winner with Corinthians – wrote his name into the annals with an adept finish into the bottom corner just before the break, while a combination of UAE No1 Ali Khaseif’s career-best performance and the momentum-sapping VAR repeatedly denied the visiting European royalty.

Never before has the ‘Pride of Abu Dhabi’ nickname been so apt. It still fit when the second-half onslaught brought the partisan Madrid crowd the – later than expected – goals they desired through Ballon d’Or holder Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale with a telling first touch off the substitute’s bench with 10 minutes left.

FIFA’s Club of the Century, 12-time UEFA Champions League winners and a beloved side mobbed since landing on Sunday in the Emirates. They of Puskas, Di Stefano, a legendary quintet of European Cups, La Quinta del Buitre, Los Galacticos and the incomparable Cristiano Ronaldo.

Losing to opponents who celebrated just their second Arabian Gulf League triumph last May, fuelled by the goals of 2015 Asian Cup top scorer Ali Mabkhout – a name known by few outside the Middle East.

That’s not something which gets written every day, but this was not a usual occurrence – far from it.

It wasn’t too last. But this was about more than simple valour in defeat.

Coach Henk ten Cate joked about needing “three buses” before the match. Yet he did not instruct his charges simply to defend.

We are talking about a depleted side hardly expected to see off the amateurs of Auckland City in the play-offs, never mind AFC Champions League holders Urawa Red Diamonds as well in the next stage.

This tournament – back in the UAE for the first time since 2009 and 2010, when the host entrants failed to advance beyond the quarter-finals – has developed the habit of throwing incongruous rivals together. Last year, Madrid needed extra-time in the final to see off J1 League holders Kashima Antlers.

A tradition that continued in the guise of AM7 v CR7, the doe-eyed Mohammed Al Attas against the visitors’ fearsome left flank or the redoubtable Khaseif against everything thrown his way as he vied for the man-of-the-match honours within a hectic first 10 minutes of this unlikely clash.

But the only similarity, pre-match, between the competitors appeared to be shared struggles in their domestic title defences.

A hostile crowd of 36,650 was a world away from the pitiful attendances witnessed in many AGL matches. It was certainly more ‘Hala Madrid’ than ‘Yalla Jazira’ in the capital.

Khaseif and the woodwork, somehow, kept out a series of threatening Ronaldo headers and fierce skimmers from Modric.

The Video Assistant Referee also stole in when headers from the unfortunate Karim Benzema and Brazil holding midfielder Casemiro – which deflected off left-back Salem Rashid – were ruled out, belatedly.

Remarkably, a breakthrough finally came at the end no-one expected. Casemiro was lackadaisical in possession, Morocco’s Mbark Boussoufa taking advantage to tee up Romarinho. He stepped inside France’s Raphael Varane and found the corner for a historic sixth goal in 16 games since his summer arrival from Qatar’s El Jaish.

VAR was at it again moments after kick-off in the second half, denying an offside Boussoufa his doubling of the lead as Mabkhout dawdled in letting him slot into an open goal.

Madrid smelled blood and Ronaldo smashed past replacement goalkeeper Khaled Al Senaani.

Benzema then, twice, came off second best in a duel with the post. Replacement Bale would not be so generous, sidefooting home to deafening cheers.

Brazil’s Gremio now awaits the victors in Saturday’s decider. For Jazira in defeat, they have gained something invaluable – the respect of the world.

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Would you buy Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's custom Lamborghini?

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Aubameyang showing up for Dortmund training in a regular, non-custom Lamborghini.

Borussia Dortmund fans can now drive off in one of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang‘s distinctive luxury sports cars after the Gabon international put it on the market for €279,980.

German daily Bild report that the striker has put his silver-painted Lamborghini Aventador, advertised as a ‘celebrity vehicle’, up for sale with a car dealer in Dormagen, near Cologne.

The 28-year-old footballer has a weakness for fast cars, and there is no mistaking that the car belongs to Aubameyang as it has his distinctive lightening-flash logo on the bonnet.

Starting the week like ... 🚀 #playfree #A⚡

A post shared by Aubameyang (@aubameyang97) on

The luxury vehicle has a top speed of 350 km/h.

Aubameyang, who has scored 12 goals in 14 league games this season, had the vehicle painted silver with a colourful rainbow matt effect.

The footballer was suspended by Dortmund last month after turning up late for training which led to him being mocked by ex-Germany international Olaf Thon, who used to play for Dortmund’s rivals Schalke.

“Anyone who drives such fast cars and then comes too late to training, well there is something wrong there,” said the 51-year-old, who was in the West Germany squad which won the 1990 World Cup title.

Provided by AFP Sport

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Iniesta says goal against Chelsea in 2009 is one of his favourite memories

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Barcelona captain Andres Iniesta

Barcelona midfielder Andres Iniesta admitted his late goal to knock Chelsea out in the Champions League semi-finals in 2009 is one of his best memories ahead of his club’s return to Stamford Bridge.

The sides were paired together again in Monday’s Champions League last 16 draw with Barca travelling to London for the first leg on February 20.

Iniesta’s last gasp equaliser eight years ago after Chelsea had been denied a series of penalty claims by Norwegian referee Tom Henning Ovrebo allowed Barca to reach the final on away goals as they completed the club’s first ever treble of Champions League, La Liga and Copa del Rey.

“Great memories come to mind, some of the best that I could have experienced,” Iniesta said on Wednesday.

“The first thing I thought after the draw was that it will be a very tough tie against a strong team in every sense.”

Iniesta was absent through injury as Barca preserved their eight-point lead at the top of La Liga on Sunday.

However, he expects to return for Deportivo la Coruna’s visit to the Camp Nou on Sunday to get match sharp ahead of an El Clasico clash with Real Madrid to end Barca’s year on December 23.

“I’m more or less ok, if I was completely fit I would be with the team (training). It wasn’t really an injury but more of a niggle,” he added.

“For Sunday I hope to be available. I’m optimistic for this weekend and the following one.”

Provided by AFP Sport

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