Fifa Club World Cup: Zoran Mamic calls on Al Ain to 'write history' against River Plate
UAE champions take on the Copa Libertadores winners in the semi-final on Tuesday at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium
Zoran Mamic hopes Al Ain seize the opportunity to “write history” in their Fifa Club World Cup semi-final against River Plate – although he concedes his side have never faced a stronger opponent than they will on Tuesday.
The UAE champions, making their debut at the tournament, take on the recently anointed Copa Libertadores winners at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium with a place in the final, and a possible showdown with Real Madrid, on offer.
Al Ain have been made to work to reach this point, having come through last Wednesday’s dramatic penalty-shootout victory against New Zealand’s Team Wellington before putting to the sword African champions Esperance de Tunis on Saturday.
More from Fifa Club World Cup:
John McAuley: How Al Ain can stun River Plate to reach the final
Mamic’s men rebounded from 3-0 down to defeat Wellington, a semi-professional side, but were excellent against Esperance to run out convincing 3-0 winners.
Now, though, they face a refreshed River side who have not played since sealing the Libertadores crown on December 9.
“It’s an opportunity for Al Ain to write history,” Mamic said on Monday. “Until now, we’ve played a good tournament, but we want to show more. Of course we have to respect our opposition: a great club, a great team with lots of quality.
“It will be very hard for us, more difficult than ever. I don’t think Al Ain have played against a stronger team than River Plate in official games. We have to use this chance, this possibility to learn, to enjoy, to celebrate. We don’t have to do anything differently – we just have to score more goals than River.”
Al Ain's win over Esperance de Tunis in pictures
Mamic could welcome back Mohammed Abdulrahman to the team after the midfielder sat out the Esperance match having been sent off in the opener. The Croatian manager hopes, too, that lead striker Marcus Berg will be fit to start following a virus that has affected much of the squad.
Understandably, Mamic called on his players to be more aggressive and more focused than ever, especially in defence given River’s strength is their attack. The Argentines booked their place in the Club World Cup by defeating arch-rivals Boca Juniors 5-3 on aggregate.
Most importantly, though, Mamic urged his players to grasp the moment.
“Al Ain is a great club, great history in this part of the world, but on the world map Al Ain is not so known like River Plate or Real Madrid or whoever,” he said.
“That’s why like I said many times: we have to take this tournament as a bonus, a privilege to be part of it, to learn.
“But you can learn when you enjoy, when you are happy, when you are satisfied. This is the only way we can make history or maybe some spectacular things. Because if we go into the games with the pressure and have too much intensity, then you cannot make a great performance.
“I say to the players before they go out: ‘please, put your head up, be proud of what you do, enjoy and try to do your best’. This is the way we can make great things.”
Should Al Ain cause an upset on Tuesday, they will become the first Emirati club to reach the Club World Cup final. That takes place on Saturday in Abu Dhabi.
“The teams are both human, 11 against 11, and they have to prove on the field that they are better,” Mamic said.
“We will fight against them with all the weapons we have: cleverness, spirit, energy, all things that count in football and in the end if they win we will say ‘you were better’. And if we win we will be happier. We will see what will happen.”
Updated: December 17, 2018 08:05 PM