Khalid Essa: Al Ain did not 'underestimate' Team Wellington after staging great escape at Fifa Club World Cup
The Arabian Gulf League champions fought back from three goals down to force extra time before winning 4-3 on penalties in play-off tie
Khalid Essa refuted the idea Al Ain had underestimated Team Wellington, after they required a remarkable comeback and then penalties to finally stave off the amateur side from New Zealand.
Essa produced two fine saves in the shoot-out at the Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night, as Al Ain advanced to a quarter-final tie with Esperance de Tunis at the Club World Cup on Saturday.
Wellington had held a shock 3-0 lead after 44 minutes, thanks to goals from Mario Barcia, Aaron Clapham and Mario Ilich.
The Arabian Gulf League champions forced extra time, though, thanks to goals from Tsukata Shiotani, Tong Doumbia and Marcus Berg, who was only fit enough for a place on the bench as he battled the effects of a virus.
Mohamed Abdulrahman was shown a red card late in extra time, but Al Ain survived the penalties, with Ibrahim Diaky, Hussein Elshalat, Shiotani and Caio all scoring.
“When you start the match, you have to show full respect to the opposition,” said Essa, who saved penalties from Angus Kilkolly and Justin Gulley.
“Our coach showed us valuable information about our opponents through video. We had full concentration, full respect, and identified all their weakness and strong points.
“We did not underestimate our opponents. In the career of any player, participating in a competition of this standard can happen only once, so you can’t underestimate the other team.
“Yes, we were three goals down, but we amended the result by the end of the match.”
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The goalkeeper said he was still confident his side could advance, even at 3-0 down.
“For the first time we are participating at this high level, in this competition, and you know that you are against great players and great teams,” Essa said.
“But I was expecting to come back in the match, because I could see the players were very determined. It was so apparent in their faces.
“By the end of the match, we were able to come back, and during the break, the messages from our coach were so influential.”
Jose Figueira, the Wellington coach, said he was proud of the way his side had performed, given the disparity between them and the others at the Club World Cup.
The Oceania Champions League winners play at a home ground that is 10 times smaller than Al Ain’s 24,000 capacity stadium, and they players have secondary jobs to supplement their careers as footballers.
“I am very proud of what the players put out on the pitch today, so far away from home and in an atmosphere that is very different to what we are used to,” Figueira said.
“As amateur players, with amateur resources, to come somewhere like this and put up a performance like we did was almost beyond expectation.
“The initial feelings are ones of hurt, but we are also extremely proud. When you get to penalties, it is a little about luck, small moments, and unfortunately those moments fell for them in the shoot-out.
“It is certainly one of the hardest ways to lose. For us, it is an even bigger motivation to want to come back and perform at this level again.”
Updated: December 13, 2018 08:45 AM