Here we take a look at three takeaways from Henk ten Cate’s press conference ahead of the highly-anticipated clash.
Fantasy football for Jazira
Any football fan around the world who owns a games console, plays FIFA. And even with a huge game on his hands – a Club World Cup semi-final Henk ten Cate labelled arguably his greatest achievement in management – the Dutchman was able to cut through the pomp and fanfare and illustrate why football is called the beautiful game.
Jazira are a club that champion their youth, with numerous youngsters from their flourishing academy brought into and thriving in the first team by Ten Cate.
By revealing to journalists how these youngsters will today go from playing with their Real Madrid idols on a PlayStation on the team bus, to lining up against Cristiano Ronaldo and Co in the tunnel before testing themselves out on the field, he was able to encapsulate just how much this must be an occasion to cherish.
Ten Cate: “They play PlayStation on the bus when we go to away games and a lot of them support Madrid, so they know all the players. It’s kind of funny as the same boys playing the PlayStation on the bus are tomorrow facing the real stars.”
Mabkhout in a race against time to be fit for biggest game of their careers
In essence it’s a glorified friendly that won’t impact their season, but you feel truly sorry if any Al Jazira player misses out on today’s game of a lifetime against global superpower Real Madrid.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi alrady had a plethora of injuries heading into the tournament, but coach Henk ten Cate touched on the possibility of a few more players possibly missing the dream clash with Los Blancos.
Rumours abound that prolific Jazira striker Ali Mabkhout may miss the game after picking up an injury in victory against Urawa Red Diamonds on Saturday. If this turns out to be true, it would be a tragedy for the leathal marksman.
Not only was it his goal that earned them a semi-final date with Real, it was his immense contribution of 33 goals in 25 Arabian Gulf League matches on the way to the title last season that had put Jazira in the tournament.
Bar Al Ain’s Omar Abdulrahman, Mabkhout is the biggest star if UAE football, with countless years of speculation he has wanted a move to Europe. Many would love to see it happen, and of all the players who deserve to be in the shop window tonight, Mabkhout is head and shoulders above anyone.
Ten Cate: “We have some injuries and a few more after the last match. But the medical staff are doing everything they can, working really hard to get everyone on the field tomorrow.”
Rise of Jazira is due to Ten Cate instilling a work ethic in his players
When celebrated former idol Abel Braga returned to Al Jazira in the summer of 2015 following Eric Gerets’ dismissal, fans and club hierarchy alike were predicting a return to the recent glory days of when the Brazilian delivered Arabian Gulf League and President’s Cup glory in a glorious first spell.
It turned into unmitigated disaster, though, Braga was sacked before the turn of the year, and in came Henk ten Cate. During the Braga reign, stories were rife of a team out of shape and little emphasis put on fitness, with players regularly skipping training.
Under Ten Cate, however, Jazira have transformed into a well drilled unit. He has said on numerous occasions that what his players lack in star quality compared to the likes of rivals Al Ain, Al Wasl and Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, they make up for in spirit.
Slowly instilling discipline and a professional environment, under the watch of a talented coach, has yielded huge success, with the president’s Cup lifted in his first season, the AGL title coming a year later and now a Club World Cup semi-final.
Jazira’s chances of success against Real are slim, but you can be sure his players will fight and scrap for their lives, the “bitter end” as Ten Cate himself said.
Ten Cate: “The difference in quality is just too huge. But my team will fight, like they did before, they will fight until the bitter end.”
A lot of Al Jazira’s younger players are staunch Real Madrid fans who love playing with their idols on popular computer game FIFA – on Wednesday they get to come up against them on a real pitch instead of a pixilated one.
Rather than control the likes of five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale on a console aboard the team bus on trips to away games, Jazira’s players get to test themselves against Los Blancos in a FIFA World Club Cup semi-final.
Pride of Abu Dhabi coach Henk ten Cate says it will be a “life-changing” experience for his Arabian Gulf League champions.
“If you look up to big players, we watch every day the Spanish, German and English leagues, now you are facing someone like Cristiano Ronaldo who has won five Golden Balls,” said Dutchman Ten Cate, who led his team to this point after a thoroughly deserved 1-0 victory against champions of Asia, Urawa Red Diamonds, on Saturday.
“And now you are standing next to him in the tunnel to enter the field to play a game against him. I can only imagine what that means to those boys. They are super motivated, I hope they are not too nervous, it’s going to be alright I think.
“We don’t need to motivate the players, especially the young ones. They play PlayStation on the bus when we go to away games and a lot of them support Madrid, so they know all the players.
“It’s kind of funny as the same boys playing the PlayStation on the bus are tomorrow facing the real stars. It’s really for them probably a life-changing situation.”
Few gave Jazira any hope of beating AFC Champions League winners Urawa at Zayed Sports City Stadium in the last eight encounter. Fewer still believe they have any hope whatsoever of victory at the same venue on Wednesday night against the reigning Spanish, European and world champions.
But former Barcelona assistant Ten Cate was all smiles at Tuesday’s press conference, joking with reporters that his side will need to park three buses in front of their goal to stand any chance of victory and reaching Saturday’s final.
“We need three buses. Maybe (Jose) Mourinho can come by and stick two more buses in front of our goal,” laughed Ten Cate, who celebrated his 63rd birthday on the same day as the Urawa triumph.
“Dreaming is OK, but you must not become stupid, you must be realistic. And if you are realistic, the chances of winning are not really big. The difference in quality is just too huge. But my team will fight, like they did before, they will fight until the bitter end.”
— #ClubWC 🇦🇪🏆 (@FIFAcom) December 10, 2017
Ten Cate has also enjoyed coaching spells at Premier League Chelsea and Dutch giants Ajax in his homeland. But he ranks taking Jazira to the Club World Cup last four as among his highest achievements.
“Being here with Al Jazira is probably my biggest thing I did,” he said.
“In the semi-finals of the Club World Cup with a team from the UAE, it is something you almost cannot imagine. We are here and we are proud to be here.
“It’s a big surprise that we are sitting here. Nobody expected it. We only believed in it and dreamt of it so it’s a big thing for us. Playing against a big club is going to be something special for all of us.
“I think our achievement puts the country, UAE football, on the map. Achieving what we have will help give UAE football a boost.”
تين كات “أنا فخور بجميع ما حققته من القاب خلال مسيرتي كمدرب في أسبانيا وانجلترا وهولندا وبقية الدول التي عملت بها لكن بلوغ نصف نهائي #كأس_العالم_للأندية مع الجزيرة هو الإنجاز الأكبر بالنسبة لي حتى الآن، وأنا الفريق فخورون بهذا الانجاز ونسعى للاستمتاع بكل لحظة”#الجزيرة_ريال_مدريد pic.twitter.com/rIZ0hTLRbg
— نادي الجزيرة 🇦🇪الفخر العالمي🏆 (@AlJazira_uae) December 12, 2017
Rumours have circulated prior to the game that Jazira’s matchwinner against Urawa, the lethal Ali Mabkhout, will miss the tantalising clash having picked up a knock in Saturday’s game. But Ten Cate was remaining tight-lipped about his team selection.
“With some others we still don’t know, we have a last test today or tomorrow to see who’s available,” he said.
“We have some injuries and a few more after the last match. But the medical staff are doing everything they can, working really hard to get everyone on the field tomorrow.”
Rafael Silva insists Urawa Red Diamonds paid the pride for being “over confident”, but denied underestimating Al Jazira, as the champions of Asia were dumped out of the FIFA Club World Cup the UAE champions.
The brilliant Brazilian shone as the Japanese giants lifted the AFC Champions League crown two weeks ago, scoring both goals as Urawa beat Saudi Arabia superpower Al Hilal 2-1 over two legs.
But he was put in the shade by compatriot Romarinho at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday night as Jazira claimed a 1-0 win to advance to a fairytale semi-final showdown with Real Madrid.
After a muted display following nine goals in 11 appearances on his side’s road to Champions League glory, Silva denied Urawa took Jazira lightly.
“Of course we did not underestimate the opponent. But I think maybe we were over confident,” said the 25-year-old, who is in his first season with the Reds having moved from J1 League opponents Albirex Niigata.
“In this tournament, all the teams are champions. We knew it was going to be difficult. We were expecting this and I think it was just a lack of concentration why we lost the game.
“I think it’s the final part. We had chances and good opportunities but unfortunately we couldn’t score. We were sure of our potential and we trusted ourselves, but this happens.”
Urawa created precious little either side of Ali Mabkhout’s 52nd minute goal, a subdued Silva coming close to equalising at the death, clipping the outside of Ali Khaseif’s post.
“It was a type of game where the ball didn’t want to go in the goal,” he added.
“Against Hilal (in the Champions League final) we finished the opportunities we created, but today it wasn’t our day.”
Despite the loss, Urawa remain in the Emirates and will play African champions Wydad Casablanca for fifth place in Al Ain tomorrow.
And Silva says he and his team-mates must pick themselves up even if they don’t want to.
He added: “We still have one game. Also we will learn from this type of game and we have to look forward, even if the remaining game doesn’t matter. We have to keep going.”