Al Ain beat Team Wellington on penalties at Fifa Club World Cup after coming back from three goals down
Khalid Essa the hero with two saves as the Arabian Gulf League side triumph 4-3 on penalties after 3-3 draw
Khalid Essa was the Al Ain hero as the Arabian Gulf League champions survived a major scare to reach the quarter-finals of the Fifa Club World Cup.
The domestic champions required penalties to finally end the plucky challenge of Team Wellington, the side of part-time players from New Zealand’s capital.
At one stage Al Ain had appeared certain to be going out. With a minute to go till halftime, they had been 3-0 down.
They fought back, though, with substitute Marcus Berg forcing extra time after levelling scores with five minutes of the 90 remaining.
The two sides still could not split after the addition half-hour, and Al Ain were indebted to two saves in the shoot-out by Essa, their UAE national team goalkeeper, for making it through.
In the lead up to this tournament, Mario Barcia had said “every night I’m going to sleep I’m dreaming of everything: what’s going to happen”.
Maybe in one of those wilder dreams, Wellington’s Argentinian midfielder might have slotted a 30-yard drive into the top corner.
He would have been pinching himself as he wheeled away celebrating in the 11th minute, then, after giving his side the dream start, with a sensational long-range strike past a despairing Essa.
The New Zealanders had barely returned from dreamland when Aaron Clapham doubled the lead four minutes later, after being given the freedom of Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium by an absent Al Ain defence.
The home team thought they had halved the arrears nine minutes, when Caio shot past Scott Basalaj in Wellington’s goal, after a neat exchange of passes with Hussein Elshalat.
The goal was chalked off, though, after the referee, Ryuji Sato, consulted the pitch-side video screen.
In his view, Mohanad Salem had committed a foul in winning the ball back to start the move from which Caio scored. The decision appeared harsh, doubly so when Salem was also shown a yellow card.
Perhaps fearing that could become a red – or because replacement Bandar Al Ahbabi would provide much-needed attacking thrust – manager Zoran Mamic substituted a disconsolate Salem with seven minutes still to go until halftime.
Maybe the hosts would have been better off with him on the pitch, though, as their troubles soon got even worse.
Aref Al Awani: Every game is a big game at the Fifa Club World Cup
Messi, Rodriguez and Griezmann: Football's top stars turn out in Madrid for River Plate v Boca Juniors
Al Ain failed to clear a succession of corners. Each could have done with the sort of towering header in which Salem specialises.
Instead, the last in the series of left-wing corners was limply flicked on by Tongo Doumbia, who was supposedly defending Al Ain’s near-post.
All that achieved was to redirect it to Mario Ilich, who tapped in at the far post to make it 3-0 to Wellington.
The home faithful were stunned. Even though half time was still a minute away, scores of Ainawy were making their way to the exit.
They were given pause to think again, though, as Tsukasa Shiotani, the Japanese left-back, gave the home team a lifeline by drilling a low shot past Basalaj.
Doumbia was able to make amends for his earlier error, after the restart, when he volleyed in a cross by Caio to get Al Ain back to within a goal.
Berg, after being introduced as a substitute with 12 minutes to go, equalised with five remaining, when his shot from an Ibrahim Diaky layoff found the corner of the net.
Mohamed Abdulrahman was shown a red card late in extra time, after adding a second yellow for a tired lunge to the earlier soft one he got for throwing the ball away.
Bayed on by a frenzied crowd of 15,279, the home team won the spot-kicks 4-3, with Diaky, Elshalat, Siotani and Caio finding the target.
Justin Gulley, Wellington’s captain, saw the final kick saved by Essa.
Al Ain will now go on to face Esperance de Tunis in the quarter-finals, at the same venue on Saturday.
Updated: December 13, 2018 08:44 AM