Real Madrid enter the final at the Zayed Sports City Stadium as favourites to lift a record third straight world crown.
Standing in their way are Al Ain, the only UAE side to have ever won the Asian Champions League – in 2004 – and Mamic said it is possible for his side to pull off the biggest result in Arab football.
“We’re almost like a ‘smart car’ against a Mercedes, but every now and again a ‘smart car’ can beat a Mercedes,” Mamic was quoted as saying by AFP.
Mamic’s team defeated River Plate in the semi-finals via penalties after an enthralling clash against the Argentines who had arrived in Abu Dhabi days after defeating Boca Juniors in the disrupted Copa Libertadores final.
However, Mamic admitted Real are the clear favourites.
“The strength of Real Madrid is the whole team, every player can make the difference,” he said.
“Even the defence… (Sergio) Ramos, (Dani) Carvajal, Marcelo, (Raphael) Varane… it could be anyone, so we can’t just focus on stopping the attack, but the whole team.”
However, Mamic believes his side can go one better than fellow Abu Dhabi club Al Jazira, who last year gave Real a tough fight in the semi-finals.
“Last year we have the example of Al Jazira, against who Real had 10 chances to score and didn’t, then Al Jazira took their one chance and Real struggled to get back into it,” added Mamic.
Heroic goalkeeper Khalid Essa has told surprise 2018 Club World Cup finalists Al Ain “to aim high” and believe that they can pull off another major upset – this time against European giants Real Madrid.
The UAE No1 has been the star man for the Boss throughout the tournament, saving decisively in penalty shootouts during the first-round opener against New Zealand amateurs Team Wellington and, memorably, against Copa Libertadores winners River Plate in Tuesday’s intense semi-final at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium.
Three-time-successive UEFA Champions League winners and CWC holders Madrid are up next after they saw off Japan’s Kashima Antlers on Wednesday at Zayed Sports City. Following a stirring week of action that has seen his side make history as the Emirates’ club to make the global showpiece, fearless Essa was not intimidated by meeting Los Blancos.
“It’s a great result for the UAE,” said the 29-year-old about the epic 2-2 draw and 5-4 shootout triumph against River. “We have reached the final and so we will try our best.
“Now we’re going to try to win it, we have nothing else to aim for. If we reach the final we will try to win.
“Why not? It will be difficult, but if there is a chance we have to aim high.
“For me, this is the best moment in Al Ain, because in 2016 I lost the AFC Champions League final, so this is the best moment for me. Hopefully, we can complete this.”
Al Ain’s victories have been made even more creditable by the fact they had to weather three intense matches within seven days – CAF CL winners Esperance de Tunis were thrashed 3-0 in Saturday’s quarter-final. These fixtures have been played at a greater intensity than is standard domestically for the Arabian Gulf League champions, plus they’ve come with much more frequency.
“It’s certainly the realisation of a big dream,” veteran centre-back Ismail Ahmed told FIFA.com. “We’re proud of this achievement, but the ultimate goal of winning this title still remains.
“It wasn’t easy for us to reach the final. In the opener we played for 120 minutes, then we had a big game against Esperance.
“And this was the third match in a very short space of time. Despite this, our players performed extremely well in all three games, which is not easy to do.”
Ahmed has performed admirably since the shock of going 3-0 behind to Team Welly on December 12’s opening night.
Now in the twilight of his celebrated career for club and country, the UAE stalwart is relishing the moment in the global spotlight.
He said: “I’m extremely proud to play in a competition like the Club World Cup at the age of 35. I’ve done everything I could in this competition and hopefully have made Al Ain and all of UAE football proud.”
For all Ahmed’s admirable displays, it required a helping hand from Essa to see the Boss through against River.
Substitute Enzo Perez was the fall guy, as the shot stopper dove right to push away his effort and make sporting history.
This saw a second man-of-the-match trophy come his way.
“Best player – it doesn’t matter as long as I see everyone smiling,” he stated.
Al Ain. 2018 Club World Cup finalists.
More than 24 hours after their epic – and historic – victory against Copa Libertadores giants River Plate, this state of affairs still seems barely believable.
Clubs from the Arabian Gulf League are not meant to make such a grand stage. Shock met the achievements of last year’s host entrance, Al Jazira, as they gallantly fell to Real Madrid in the last four – the same fate, at best, was set for the Boss.
But there is something different about coach Zoran Mamic’s remarkable squad in 2018, something more tangible. Character abounds within the ranks.
“It is incredible what my players did tonight, how much energy, how much love for football, how much spirit, support for each other,” was the ex-Croatia’s international’s apt illustration, post-match.
His side are now close to making the greatest dream real, against Los Blancos, in Saturday’s global showpiece.
Everything we’ve seen from them says that they will make a fight of it. Their exploits, in the Club World Cup and beyond, have earned football’s rarest commodity – respect.
The likes of lethal Brazilian forward Caio, unceasing Egypt midfielder Hussein El Shahat, serial shootout saviour Khalid Essa and statuesque UAE veteran Ismail Ahmed have been standouts. This quartet can ensure another landmark performance is produced.
The Boss are UAE’s most-decorated club, and it’s most storied.
In 50 years of existence, they’ve claimed a record 13 Arabian Gulf League crowns. They are also the country’s sole AFC Champions League winners – in 2002/03 – and it’s most-recent finalists in 2016.
Remarkably, it took until 2017/18 for such prolific trophy hoarders to earn a first President’s Cup and top-flight double.
But cherished son Omar Abdulrahman was in situ, injury permitting, to ensure a near three-year trophy drought was ended. An acrimonious free-transfer switch to Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal – his boyhood club – in August then threatened to undo all the good work from Mamic’s first full season at the helm.
That they came into the CWC as joint leaders of the AGL, and have performed so adeptly within it, acts as further evidence of this group’s unprecedented resolve.
Amoory’s absence has also allowed for the collective to come to the fore. Across 330 minutes in this tournament, a new bar has been set for the tempo that UAE outfits can perform at.
This characteristic has been on show throughout a CWC in which they began as a rabble and will end with them as heroes. No matter what happens at the weekend.
The Boss were egregiously bad in the opening 44 minutes of their first-round opener against New Zealand amateurs Team Wellington. A 3-0 deficit promised to bring a shameful – and premature – end to their journey this month.
The ruthless early hooking of spent ex-UAE centre-back Mohanad Salem and a dialling up of the intensity was required.
An emphatic, and laudable, response took the clash to penalties – a recurring theme – and their nerve held to complete the job in the resultant shootout.
Powerful CAF Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis should have crushed Al Ain in the quarters. Instead, an ingenious utilisation of two rampaging false 9s in Caio and El Shahat resulted in a dynamic and deserved 3-0 triumph. A spark had been lit.
Colombian forward Rafael Santos Borre’s quick-fire double saw a third-minute lead against mighty River dissipate in an instant.
Not even this setback, however, could halt Al Ain’s momentum and dampen their desire. Cheered on by an electrified support on home soil at the Hazza, they dominated the second half, were undaunted by Gonzalo Martinez’s penalty miss, and did the business in the shootout.
Amoory’s quality, unmatched in Asia, is missed. To say anything different is bluster.
But Al Ain have adapted under ex-Croatia international Mamic’s learned eye, coming out stronger as a whole.
The hard-earned right to fear no one is theirs.