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.
The 1986 World Cup winner, who is a Dubai resident, has guided the ambitious Emirate to joint-top of the UAE First Division League table since taking over last summer – but felt the need to put doubters in their place.
After a 1-0 victory at Masafi on Friday, the cult hero – who makes the trip from Dubai to the east coast Emirate on an almost daily basis – spoke of his dedication to the club and also put to bed rumours about alleged drug abuse.
“I have to journey a total of 300 kilometres every bloody day to train my team, from Dubai to Fujairah,” the 56-year-old said via social media.
“It’s ME who wants to tell you all of this so nobody can tell you I do not work or that I’m still on drugs. I have not consumed any for 14 years, thank God. And I’m not giving in… But, as I always say, they will spin it how they want.
“I’m sending a big hug to all!”
Maradona, who returned to club management after a five-year hiatus following on from his sacking at Al Wasl in 2012, also commented on how he has managed to turn the fortunes around of his current employers.
He said: “The team is getting established more and more, thanks to the talks we make with my technical staff. We are Maradona, Enrique and Islas, a core of technicians who want to pull this off, and we are doing it with all our hearts.
“In our last practice, my players understood that the rivals are going to give us a fight, because we are the team to beat.
“And the truth is today they played a great game. The defence were great. Al-Hafiti “Marscherano” very well in the midfield, with Mansouri and Bravo, on the right. And the forwards Kossoko (for me he would have to be playing in the French league) and Khalfan, who can strike at any moment.”