Arabian Gulf League holders Al Ain have learned their opponents for the 2018 Club World Cup’s kick-off after Team Wellington booked a first-ever berth in the global competition with victory in the OFC Champions League.
The amateur side followed up their 6-0 demolition job in last week’s first leg at home to Fiji’s Lautoka with an exciting 4-3 win at Churchill Park on Sunday morning, to claim a 10-3 aggregate triumph and a debut continental crown. This win provides an unprecedented showcase after New Zealand-rivals Auckland City won the previous seven editions.
Team Welly will now start the seven-team tournament, featuring six continental champions and host outfit, with a winner-takes-all qualifier against the Boss at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on December 12.
The victor from that eliminator will face either Africa’s CAF champions or the winners of Asia’s AFC Champions League in the quarter-finals.
“I’m delighted, we’re still absorbing everything but after a season of tremendous hard work, to finally clinch the big one is a tremendous feeling,” said Team Wellington coach Jose Manuel Figueira.
In 2017, host side Al Jazira managed to make it all the way to a tense semi-final against European kings Real Madrid. They took the lead through Romarinho but were denied a memorable result by second-half goals from Cristiano Ronaldo and Gareth Bale as Los Blancos triumphed 2-1.
North and Central America’s CONCACAF champions Guadalajara are the other team to have already qualified. Either Madrid or Liverpool will join them next Saturday.
Henk ten Cate says he will always consider Al Jazira and Abu Dhabi as his second home after he left his post at the Pride of Abu Dhabi following a hugely successful two-and-a-half-year period during which he totally awoke a sleeping UAE giant.
Ten Cate left the capital city giants on Tuesday following their AFC Champions League exit to Iran’s Persepolis.
The 63-year-old says he is now retired and will spend more time with his family.
“I spent more than 40 years in the football world as player and manager, and for me family comes first now,” Ten Cate, the former Ajax coach and Barcelona and Chelsea assistant, told the Jazira website.
“Managing clubs forced me to spend the majority of my life away from my family, and that’s why I decided to quit and give them more time.”
The Dutchman’s tenure was only supposed to be a temporary six-month stint, after he agreed to take over from fallen club idol Abel Braga in December 2015, with the Brazilian’s second spell in charge an unmitigated disaster.
Jazira were 13th in the Arabian Gulf League table when Ten Cate took over – agreeing to take charge after receiving a phonecall from close friend and former chairman of the board of directors at Jazira, Buti Al Qubaisi, on Boxing Day, 2015.
There was not much festive cheer around Mohammed bin Zayed Stadium at the time, but Ten Cate delivered late presents when he steered the club to the safety of seventh place by season’s end, as well as masterminding a President’s Cup success – beating heated rivals Al Ain on penalties in the final in May, less than six months after taking charge.
Better was to come in 2016/17 as Ten Cate led Jazira to a first AGL title in six years and just a second of the professional era. That saw them earn a place at the FIFA Club World Cup held in Abu Dhabi last December where the capital city giants took the lead against champions of Europe, Real Madrid, in the semi-finals before eventually losing 2-1.
In his final act, Ten Cate progressed Jazira to the knockout rounds of the AFC Champions League where they were denied a first-ever appearance in the quarter-finals after losing 2-1 in Iran to Persepolis on Monday – a last-minute winner for the hosts seeing them go through on away goals after a 4-4 aggregate draw.
He revolutionised the club and reflects with happiness on a job well done in the UAE capital.
“I am proud that I belong to Al Jazira, and I will always consider this club as a second home and family to me,” he added.
“I didn’t say goodbye to my sons, the players, because I will see them again, when I return to visit the beautiful city in the future.”
In the wake of Jazira’s stunning title triumph a year ago, Ten Cate revealed he rejected the chance to replace Danny Blind as the then Netherlands boss.
He instead chose to stay another year and even though their title defence was a limp one, as the club struggled to seventh place, they impressed with the world watching in December as well as on the continent after two previous poor showings. And Ten Cate was happy he played his part.
“I am very happy and honored that I left after I played my role in winning the President’s Cup, the Arabian Gulf League, fourth place in the FIFA Club World Cup, and also reaching the round of 16 in the AFC Champions League,” he added.
“I would like to offer my deep gratitude and sincere appreciation to the management of Al Jazira, to the players, the assistants, the doctors, the admin staff, the employees of the club, and also to the fans, because all of the them were part of the wonderful time I spent here.
“They were a genuine element in the team who achieved a lot during the last 30 months.”
The Pride of Abu Dhabi received their licence, but with a warning and a deadline to complete the requirements for financial criteria. This followed a periodic meeting of the First Instance Body of UAE Club Licensing at the Pro League Committee on Tuesday, at the UAE Football Association’s headquarters.
Off-the-field issues stained 2017/18 for Jazira, causing early contract terminations with ex-France anchorman Lassana Diarra and UAE forward Ahmed Khalil.
The body decided to grant national licences for the following teams in the expanded, 14-team top flight; Shabab Al Ahli Dubai Club, Al Ain, Al Dhafra, Ajman, Al Nasr, Al Wahda, Al Wasl, Dibba Al Fujairah, Sharjah and Emirates Club.
This is in stark contrast to 2017/18’s inaugural vetting when five outfits – including giants Al Ain – required appeals to pass.
Special assessment will be conducted in June and July for the newly promoted clubs joining PLC competitions for 2018/19; Bani Yas, Ittihad Kalba and Fujairah.
Meanwhile, Dhafra’s summer recruitment drive has continued with the capture of Rio Ave forward Helder Guedes on a free transfer.
Guedes, 31, inked a one-year renewable deal. He joins coveted former Al Hilal midfielder Nicolas Milesi at the relegation strugglers from 2017/18.
Their new Portuguese signing gained global infamy last month with a woeful ‘Panenka’ penalty that caused his enraged coach to instantly substitute him.