Mbark Boussoufa says he and his Al Jazira team-mates can use the pain of a 4-1 defeat in the FIFA Club World Cup bronze medal match to fuel their challenge for domestic and Asia silverware in 2018.
Moroccan international Boussoufa insists everything “apart from the last 30 minutes” of an incredible Club World Cup was positive for Jazira.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi lived up to their nickname during a mesmerising 10 days for the reigning Arabian Gulf League champions.
After edging past New Zealand’s Auckland City in the pre-tournament play-off on December 6, Henk ten Cate’s warriors stunned AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds in the quarter-finals. They even had the temerity to take the lead against Spanish, European and world kings Real Madrid in the semi-finals, before Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale rescued Los Blancos.
Prior to Madrid beating Brazil’s Gremio 1-0 in Saturday’s final, a hectic 10 days – in which they played four games, the most of any team – finally caught up with the host team as they were eventually blown away by Mexico’s Pachuca in the third-place play-off.
But veteran playmaker Boussoufa, one of Jazira’s stars during the tournament, was left feeling pride in his colleagues, and also hopeful for the rest of the season.
“It’s very important to use this experience as a platform for the rest of the season,” said former Ajax and Chelsea starlet Boussoufa, 33.
“Because of the experience. You have to understand a lot of players never played on this level. So to play on this level is very good. It’s good to have this experience and take it with you in your backpack for the future. Especially for some young players.”
One of those young players, 22-year-old Khalfan Mubarak, made it 1-1 for Jazira on Saturday in the 57th minute following Jonathan Urretaviscaya’s first-half opener for the CONCACAF Champions League winners.
But they fell 2-1 behind minutes later as Diego Alonson’s side eventually marched to a comfortable victory.
Fatigue was an inevitable consequence of so much football in such a short space of time for Jazira’s injury-ravaged squad, said Boussoufa.
“I think we got punished for our mistakes. Silly mistakes,” he said.
“It’s too bad we couldn’t come back when we scored. Right back to 2-1 and then it’s difficult. Then the tiredness came in and another mistake with the penalty.
“It’s too bad but overall I think we did a very good job. I’m very proud of them. No-one expected us to come this far in the tournament and well done to everybody.
“Everything was very positive apart from the last 30 minutes. We wanted that third place but it’s understandable with the fatigue.
“This level and this intensity, four games in 10 days, is absurd. My muscles are gone, it’s dangerous because you can pull any muscle any time.
“But we did it and we came out without any major injuries, which is most important. We could have done better in this last game but it was a little bit too much I think, the fourth one.”
المفاجاة ⬅️ الجزيرة الفائز بالمركز الرابع في مشاركته الأولى
الحارس ⬅️ علي خصيف صاحب أفضل أداء وأكثر تصديات
الهدّاف ⬅️ رومارينيو برصيد هدفين⚽️⚽️ + تمريرة حاسمة#فخر_أبوظبي 🇦🇪
ملخص عام لكأس العالم للأندية 2017 وكل إنجازاتهاhttps://t.co/K13AiAKyDd pic.twitter.com/flWxrCvAqK
— الإمارات2017# 🏆🇦🇪 (@fifacom_ar) December 17, 2017
Ten Cate’s troops are fifth domestically, nine points off joint AGL leaders Al Wasl and Al Ain, although they are currently riding a six-match unbeaten league run.
They also have a new ACL campaign to look forward to in the new year. And Boussoufa claims the players, especially the youngers ones, will have learnt a great deal from their Club World Cup experience.
“You always feel disappointment, no matter how old you are,” added Boussoufa, who will hope to be part of the Atlas Lions squad in Russia next summer.
“But we are happy we did well. I’m disappointed but we just need a bit of time. We can be proud. The young players will understand and we can only learn as a team from this. OK, I have experience but even I learn every day. I’m very positive for the future.
“To come here as an inexperienced side, having not made it that far in the Champions League before, and do well like this, it has to do with the players, as well as the coach, the staff, all of them.”
The diminutive schemer came straight back into Jazira’s starting 11 for the Auckland game following three weeks away with the national team. And he revealed he is looking forward to a brief break now, with the Gulf Cup in Kuwait taking precedence in the UAE from Friday.
“I came back straight away against Auckland after three weeks away and I felt very heavy,” he said.
“But I’m proud of myself for what I’ve done. I can say I played well in all of the games, I’m just really tired right now. I’m on the limit. It’s important and good for yourself personally you can perform like that, especially on a big stage like this.”
The depleted Pride of Abu Dhabi’s incredible – and landmark – run in the capital came to a blunt end on Saturday night. The CONCACAF Champions League holders raced away at 1-1 in the second half against opponents whose energy reserves had been utterly drained by shocking the globe in pushing eventual winners Real Madrid all the way in Wednesday’s memorable semi-final, never mind the preceding victories against Urawa Red Diamonds and Auckland City.
Promising playmaker Khalfan Mubarak drew the hosts level close to the hour mark with a firm dispatching of a rebound, this being required after reserve centre-back Saif Khalfan’s indecision allowed Uruguay winger Jonathan Urretaviscaya to slot in. But the floodgates would then open, Argentina forward Franco Jara converting a delightful cross, 17-year-old substitute Roberto de la Rosa calmly finishing a one-on-one and superb Chile attacker Angelo Sagal rounding it off with a penalty.
“You could see after one hour the tank was empty,” said Ten Cate of his Arabian Gulf League champions, who recorded the UAE’s highest-ever CWC finish. “This game was one bridge too far.
“I am sitting here and I am really proud of what the guys did. Before the tournament if anyone said we’d play for the third and fourth place, I would have started laughing.
“We missed some key players today, more than we already missed, it was just too much. Pachuca were way better than us.”
Pachuca’s pedigree and extra energy made them comfortable winners. There was still a tinge of regret for coach Diego Alonso after his charges missed out on a final spot, thanks to a painful 1-0 extra-time loss to Copa Libertadores winners Gremio.
He said: “Of course, we are happy to be third and on the podium among the best three clubs in the world. It is better for our club history to be in the awards ceremony.
“I think we deserved better, we did a lot of work before the tournament.”
— نادي الجزيرة 🇦🇪الفخر العالمي🏆 (@AlJazira_uae) December 16, 2017
But, after a stellar campaign, which included a strong performance against Real Madrid on Wednesday, we look at four things learned from their tournament in the UAE.
ROMARINHO COMING INTO HIS OWN
The Brazilian has been ticking along nicely since his summer arrival, with four goals in 13 games in all competitions and three Arabian Gulf League assists.
But he has exploded on the bigger stage, rocketing a ragged Al Jazira into the Club World Cup proper with the only goal against Auckland City, and scoring stylishly to put them 1-0 up against the mighty Real Madrid. While Lassana Diarra and Ahmed Khalil have flopped, he has fizzled.
ALI MABKHOUT PROVES HE CAN DO IT ON WORLD STAGE
For a while we have talked up the two top talents of UAE football, Mabkhout and Omar Abdulrahman, suggesting both have what it takes to succeed at a higher level.
Under the bright white spotlight against Real, Mabkhout certainly didn’t melt, dazzling under the eye of the watching world. He was also the man who fired them to that magical semi-final, scoring the only goal to knock out reigning Asian champions Urawa Reds.
Al ATTAS SHOULD BE TARGETING UAE’S 2019 ASIAN CUP SQUAD
Partly because of necessity, partly because of talent, rising star Mohamed Al Attas has played a pivotal role during Jazira’s Club World Cup journey. Thrust into the limelight due to a myriad of injuries, Al Attas could have been forgiven for wilting after a poor display against Auckland.
That turned out to be but a blip on what appears to be a promising road to stardom for the multi-skilled 20-year-old. If he can sustain his place in the Jazira first team this season, breaking into the national team set-up for the 2019 Asian Cup on home soil should be his next aim.
BOUSSOUFA CEMENTING PLACE AS CLUB LEGEND
In recent years, the club has bought in big names such as Mirko Vucinic, Jefferson Farfan and Thiago Neves, but all have left with tarnished reputations. Diminutive Moroccan Boussoufa, however, has bucked the trend of big name Jazira disappointments by proving to be a shining example both on and off the pitch.
The former Ajax and Chelsea youngster glides across the field, picking holes in opposition defences, while knitting together a talented crop of youngsters and providing a role model for them to admire.