Beaming with pride after pushing UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid so hard, Al Jazira boss Henk ten Cate declared his charges had “put the UAE on the map” after this slender Club World Cup defeat.
The Arabian Gulf League leaders led for 53 inspirational minutes at Zayed Sports City after Brazilian forward Romarinho struck just before the break. Their astounding and utterly unexpected semi-final advantage could even have been doubled moments into the second half, only for the Video Assistant Referee – who had earlier denied the visiting superstars, Casemiro’s header being called off – to rule out Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa’s effort for offside.
With a sense of inevitability, goals would follow from Portugal icon Cristiano Ronaldo and substitute Gareth Bale. Yet, the ex-Barcelona assistant could only beam when quizzed about a tie where Jazira went toe-to-toe with European football’s greatest side and did not blink.
“In football, a lot is possible,” Ten Cate said. “But miracles only happen once in a hundred years.
“I am really pleased with the performance of my team. Of course, they had to defend and there was space to attack.
“The difference was too big, but I can only be so proud of my team and the time we stayed in the game.
“Of course, we needed some luck and our goalkeeper [Khaseif] was so brilliant in the first half. I’m so sorry he got injured.
“This is what you need on rare occasions you get to play on a stage like this.
“Our tactics worked excellently. We had three or four really good chances.
“We knew they’d be open and I said before, we had two strikers who can score a goal [Romarinho and Ali Mabkhout].
“You looked in disbelief when we scored the second goal [through Boussoufa]. Time is going against you then.
“I am very proud of my team. We did an amazing job, a small club like we are.
“We put the UAE on the map. I think this is something special.”
VAR had a huge influence on proceedings, with much debate and delay especially being seen with Madrid’s disallowed goal, with confusion over whether Casemiro had pushed his defender, before the referee ultimately decided Karim Benzema was offside in the buildup.
Bale: "VAR? I do not like it, to be honest, football is better without it but that's my opinion."— MadridistaTV (@MadridistaTV1) December 13, 2017
Croatia midfielder Luka Modric admitted the system still left him “a little bit confused”.
He said: “Some of the people didn’t like what I said, but for me, I am a little bit confused. In some aspects, it can help this technology – the VAR.
“But today for example, you have to ask about the goal from Casemiro. They say it was offside as Karim interrupted one of the players but for me, it was not the case.
“I don’t really want to go into details and these polemics, because things happen as they happen.”
Madrid’s reward for victory is a place in Saturday’s final against Brazil’s Gremio at ZSC. Jazira will battle for third spot with Mexico’s Pachuca, earlier in the day.
Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane has reiterated his faith in stuttering striker Karim Benzema after another frustrating performance was registered in last night’s enthralling 2-1 Club World Cup semi-final victory against Al Jazira.
Benzema was roundly booed at Zayed Sports City when substituted for eventual match winner Gareth Bale after a scoreless display which featured a first-half header ruled out by the Video Assistant Referee (VAR) and striking the woodwork twice in succession past the hour mark.
A failure to net – during a match in which Romarinho’s stunning opener was eventually cancelled out by Cristiano Ronaldo and the aforementioned Welshman – continued his frustrating 2017/18 campaign, featuring just five goals in 18 appearances.
When quizzed about the 29-year-old’s form Zidane bounced to his defence.
“No, Karim is okay,” he said of his fellow Frenchman, ahead of the weekend showpiece against Copa Libertadores champions Gremio of Brazil.
“He didn’t score a goal, but he’s doing fine.
“Some people think about the goal already and have to always score. Karim in the end had a good match.
“He moved and created a lot of occasions to score. He and [Cristiano] Ronaldo, all the forward players.
“I am a little bit disappointed [for him] he didn’t score as he really wanted to, as always.
“We are going to think about the game on Saturday, but I’m happy with the performances of all of them.”
Madrid were unexpectedly forced to battle against ailing Arabian Gulf League champions Jazira, for whom several senior players were absent through injury and off-field issues.
Zidane urged his side to “reach a high level” in the showpiece at the same stadium if a third Club World Cup in four years is to be attained against skilled Brazilian opponents.
He said: “Well, we saw the match yesterday and we saw another match from before. I know this team as I have seen some matches.
“But I do not really know the league of Brazil well, I don’t see it every day. I can say they are a good footballing team and we will have to reach a high level to be competitive.
“In football, there is no easy match.”
Al Jazira nearly pulled off what would have easily been the biggest result in the club’s history as they took a shock 1-0 lead against Real Madrid in the Club World Cup quarter-final, only for the La Liga champions and Champions League winners to kill the fairytale with a late comeback in a 2-1 win.
Cristiano Ronaldo and then Gareth Bale, with his first touch after coming on as a substitute, scored late goals after Madrid were denied throughout the game by some heroic goalkeeping and defending, not to mention the woodwork.
Here we rate the players from both sides.
Khaseif 9 – A combination of the UAE No1, the woodwork and VAR contrived to see miracles performed. Incredible.
M. Al Attas 5 – Was pulled apart at times by Isco, but the youngster will have learned so much from this.
Fayez 7 – The club stalwart pulled off some essential last-ditch tackles and held the five-man defence together.
Juma 6 – Tried to add some physicality at the back. Struggled at times with Karim Benzema, which is hardly a surprise.
Ayed 7 – Not only defended well. His positive use of the ball tried to stem the pressure.
Rashid 7 – Was tested like never before. Caught behind a few times, but stood up well.
Yousif 6 – Had played in the Club World Cup before for Al Wahda. This was a contrasting task and he stood up well.
Khali. Mubarak 6 – The teenager was only here because of a plethora of senior injuries. Did his bit to try and hold back the Madrid tide.
Boussoufa 8 – The Morocco midfielder’s experience was vital. Even tried to get forward.
Romarinho 8 – A place in history was earned by his beautifully taken goal. Such calm and finesse from the 2012 Club World Cup winner with Corinthians. Now, a living Jazira legend.
Mabkhout 7 – Outshone, slightly, by his strike. Yet the UAE’s resident hot shot only just missed out on a memorable goal.
Al Senaani 7 – Was beaten by Ronalo soon after coming on, but still stood up well.
Al Otaibah 6 – Tried to add a physical presence in centre midfield.
Rabea 5 – Looked daunted by the occasion and opponents.
Navas 6 – Was a passenger until he has to pick the ball out of his net.
Hakimi 5 – The goal came from his side and he had little impact going forward. Shame for the Morocco international on Arab soil.
Varane 5 – Allowed Romarinhoo far too much space to find the bottom corner.
Nacho 6 – Was stretched at times on the counter-attack.
Marcelo 7 – A constant threat on the overlap. Took until the second half to make a telling difference.
Modric 7 – Couldn’t believe how Khaseif kept denying him. Always a threat on the edge of the penalty box, with a lovely pass produced for Ronaldo’s leveller.
Casemiro 5 – Robbed of the ball in build-up to Romarinho’s opener.
Kovacic 5 – Had negligible impact on the match. Needs to seize chances like this.
Isco 7 – Madrid’s most-dangerous player, by a distance. Team-mates struggled to finish off his chances.
Benzema 6 – VAR and the woodwork conspired to create another scoreless night for the French forward.
Ronaldo 7 – Huge cheers from the crowd every time he touched the ball. Scored adroitly with his ninth shot.
Vazquez 6 – His energy helped to unsettle Jazira’s defence.
Asensio 6 – Looked to create havoc from centre midfield.
Bale 7 – What a first touch. Belied his injury troubles to produce the match-winning goal.