Al Ain's success shows the potential of Emirati football
Pitted against the legendary Real Madrid, the Garden City side made the nation proud
On Saturday night, Al Ain FC faced off against the mighty Real Madrid for a world title at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium. A few years ago, these words could only have been written in the wildest of footballing fantasies, but the 41,700 fans who converged on the capital this weekend offered proof that sporting dreams can and do come true. Indeed, reaching the final of the Fifa Club World Cup marked the end of a remarkable journey for the Garden City side.
Played out over 10 days and four gruelling games – in which they saw off the champions of Oceania, Africa and South America – Al Ain’s campaign might have ended in a 4-1 loss, but given that Real Madrid had won the tournament three years running and bagged four out of the last five Uefa Champions League titles, that is nothing to be ashamed of. Over 90 minutes, Al Ain put up a brave fight and were not intimidated by their highly decorated international rivals – not even the Ballon d'Or-winning Croatian Luka Modric. Such a performance is testament to the resolve of the individual players and the leadership of captain Ismail Ahmed. A special mention also has to be reserved for Tsukasa Shiotani, who, with only minutes left in the game, put his team on the scoresheet. It might not have been a match-winning goal, but his efforts certainly exhibited the never-say-die spirit of a true competitor.
The fatigue and disappointment etched on the players’ faces when the final whistle blew showed that this game clearly mattered to everyone there, and not bringing home the trophy was a bitter blow. Still, Al Ain have shown us all just what can be achieved with hard work, dedication and the support of your local community. In doing so, they have also served as an inspiring example for the UAE national team next month, when Ahmed will lead his countrymen in the Asian Cup on home soil. The excitement around Al Ain's run in the Club World Cup has also further fanned the flames of passion for the game in the Emirates and the fans of the 24 nations taking part in the Asian Cup – including 11 Arab countries – will make it just as remarkable a spectacle.
Updated: December 23, 2018 08:50 PM