Al Jazira’s cubs will “fight like lions” in their bid to secure a berth in the Club World Cup’s quarter-finals, according to coach Henk ten Cate.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi are carrying the hopes of the host nation when the competition returns to the UAE for the first time in seven years, from December 6-16. They will need to navigate a tricky play-off against tournament veterans Auckland City of New Zealand at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night (21:00 kick-off) before they can dream of meeting the likes of UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid, AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds or Copa Libertadores champions Gremio.
Problems on and off the pitch have negatively impacted a poor Arabian Gulf League title defence, lauded foreign additions such as Uzbekistan forward Sardor Rashidov and ex-France anchor Lassana Diarra barely featuring. This has led to opportunities for the likes of 19-year-old midfield powerhouse Eissa Al Otaibah and 20-year-old full-back Mohamed Al Attas, a situation Ten Cate is happy to repeat this evening against the part-timers.
“We have faced some difficulties, especially with our foreign players,” said the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant. “We often played with just one foreign player, for different circumstances.
“We have given young players the chance to play for the first team and at the end, it is a big bonus.
“Regardless of the result, I know we will fight like lions.”
— #ClubWC 🇦🇪🏆 (@FIFAcom) December 5, 2017
A pre-match boost for Jazira is the return of pivotal Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa after a month sidelined by injury. This partly compensates for the losses of Mohamed Jamal and Mohammed Fawzi.
In contrast to the tournament debutants, Auckland are seasoned performers at this level. The Navy Blues’ domination of the OFC Champions League makes this year’s edition a ninth entry, 2014’s run to third place their best return.
The ISPS Handa Premiership leaders – who include a driver and restaurant worker in their ranks – will plan to threaten with an attacking trio of Emiliano Tade, Ryan De Vries and Callum McCowatt.
“We understand Al Jazira is a very good rival,” said Spanish coach Ramon Tribulietx.
“This is the next level of football, we play week in week out at a different level. But we’ve been here before, we understand what it takes.”
مغادرة فخر أبوظبي مقر إقامته متجهين لملعب التدريبات بنادي العين #مع_الفخر_لأجل_الوطن
Team departure ⚽️
Will be LIVE soon pic.twitter.com/HTWWZuB0Bx
— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) December 4, 2017
This contest acts as a preamble for bigger ties to come, largely at Abu Dhabi’s redeveloped Zayed Sports City. Ten Cate instructed his players not to get distracted by potential future glamour matches
He said: “If people keep talking about Real Madrid, it is disrespectful to Auckland and Urawa.”
Madrid land on Monday, ahead of Wednesday’s semi-finals.
Urawa, CONCACAF Champions League winners Pachuca, CAF Champions League holders Wydad Casablanca and Wednesday evening’s victors will all play in Saturday’s quarter-finals at ZSC.
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