Lethal Mabkhout, the Arabian Gulf League’s deadliest marksman who scored a league-leading 33 goals in 25 games last season, notched arguably the biggest goal of his career as the Pride of Abu Dhabi defeated Urawa Red Diamonds last night – setting up a mouthwatering clash in the Club World Cup last four on Wednesday with European champions Madrid.
And the UAE striker said he and his teammates focused all their energy on Urawa rather than daydream about taking on Zinedine Zidane’s side.
“If we had started thinking about Real Madrid before this game, we would have lost,” said the 27-year-old.
“So we had to show respect to the champions of Asia. They are a strong team so we respect them. This is why we won.
“We believe in ourselves and we respect Urawa. But it does not mean we can’t win. We believe and we play very strong and we are also lucky at some points.”
The prolific Mabkhout scored the only goal of the game at Zayed Sports City Stadium seven minutes after the break as Jazira bravely held on for a richly deserved victory.
And Mabkhout added: “I’m so happy to score in a big important win and we get to play against Real Madrid. It’s a big victory for us and we hope we play well against Madrid.”
Few gave Jazira hope of victory against Urawa. Even fewer will give them a chance of beating Cristiano Ronaldo and Co, but Mabkhout believes Jazira carry the hopes of a nation, rather than one club, on their shoulders.
“It’s good for the country. We don’t just play as Jazira now, we play for the UAE,” he said.
“We did not want to think about Madrid but now we can. We know they are one of the best teams in the world and this is an incentive for all the players.”
Mabkhout had a relatively quiet game up until his goal, his touch deserting him when presented with an earlier opportunity. Yet Jazira coach Henk ten Cate claims his natural ability always makes him a threat.
“This guy so good he will always find a moment and find a position to score, and he did so,” said the Dutchman, who celebrated a glorious win on his 63rd birthday.
“The celebrations (on the pitch at the final whistle) were because of my birthday, I am normally not like this. My family is home so we will go and celebrate my birthday now.”
Former Ajax coach and Chelsea and Barcelona assistant Ten Cate expressed pride in his players, who he said had made the whole country proud.
“Everybody should be proud of this team because they have made the country proud,” he added.
“We are a team that is very difficult to beat and we will fight until the last minute. Urawa had more possession than us but we have a good spirit, a fighting spirit, willpower, and I am proud of them.”
Ali Mabkhout’s solitary goal was enough to beat East Asia’s finest as Jazira usurped the previous poor efforts of Al Ahli (2009) and Al Wahda (2010) in this competition.
Jazira should have been behind just before the half-hour mark. Waturu Endo released Yuki Moto who delivered a superb cross into the centre where Shinzo Koroki had ghosted behind the defence. The veteran inexplicably ballooned over with only Ali Khaseif to beat from inside the six yard box.
It seemed to provide the spark the hometown team needed. Striker Mabkhout broke down the right and his low cross needed to be toed behind by Japan’s Shusaku Nishikawa.
That excited the home crowd and they were almost celebrating the opener from the resulting corner when Mbark Boussoufa tricked his way past Shinya Yajima, Musallem Fayez met the cross and his header was palmed behind by Nishikawa.
The usually lethal Mabkhout cursed himself when his touch let him down after an intelligent Mohammed Al Attas lofted pass . They’d gained the ascendency at the break and soon after the restart, Jazira gained the lead, too.
Brazilian Romarinho, who rocketed Jazira to this stage with the only goal against Auckland on Wednesday, feathered a fine througball to release Ali Mabkhout on goal. There’s no deadlier finisher in UAE football and he finished with aplomb, nutmegging Nishikawa.
A response from the Reds duly arrived, Tomoaki Makino’s header was heading in before deflecting behind off Yaqoob Yousef.
They almost equalised out of nothing when Khaseif spilled Muto’s tame strike but as a startled Koroki struggled to set himself, Khaseif made amends.
Apart from that there was precious little created by Takafumi Hori’s troops thereafter. A subdued Rafael Silva awoke at the death to clip a post, but Jazira soaked up the pressure with relative ease and were well worth victory.
Here’s a look at the Al Jazira player ratings.
Ali Khaseif 7
The UAE stopper was a safe pair of hands apart from his blunder that almost saw Urawa level. But after making the error, he exonerated himself with a save
Musallem Fayez 7
One of Ten Cate’s dependables, probably why he’s been shifted to right-back for the last two games. Fiercely committed as usual, didn’t put a foot wrong
Mohamed Ali Ayed 6
Hasn’t played a lot of football this season and in the team due to injuries, but was committed. One crunching tackle typified Jazira’s hunger
Fares Juma 7
Came to the capital last summer from Al Ain where he couldn’t get a game. Mesmerising as he’s been a rock for Jazira. Was solid as ever here
Salim Rashid 6
Has established himself on both Jazira’s right and left side of defence. Defended stoutly but also offered plenty going forward. He may not be special but he’s reliable
Salem Abdulla 6
Eyebrows were raised when he was brought in last summer by the club from Al Wasl. Is a perfect foil for Rashid on the right, both are solid if unspectacular
Mohmed Al Attas 7
The versatile youngster belied his inexperienced years to put in a mature display. His insightful throughball to Mabkhout could have yielded a goal
Yaqoob Yousef 7
Received his customary yellow card, albeit for a perfect tackle. His usual busy self, harrying opposing players when in possession, if unspectacular himself with the ball
Has shone briefly since a summer switch from Qatar and contributed with goals. But his pass for Mabkhout’s goal was his most important contribution yet
Mbark Boussoufa 8
The metronomic Moroccan was at his devilish best. Probing Urawa with insightful passes and dragging defenders out of position for colleagues to exploit.
Ali Mabkhout 8
Was pretty poor up until his goal. But if there’s one player you’d pick in UAE football to finish a chance like he had, it’s the most deadly finisher in the Arabian Gulf League
The Ballon d'Or winner for 2017 is set to be announced on Thursday in Paris.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are unsurprisingly front-runners for the award once again.
The duo have dominated in recent years with Kaka being the last player other than Ronaldo or Messi to win it back in 2007.
The Portuguese is arguably the favourite having won the Champions League and La Liga with Real Madrid.
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