Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 21 August 2019

Al Ain 'are going to fight to win' Club World Cup after reaching final, says Khalid Essa

Match-winner against River Plate, UAE goalkeeper now focused on silverware even as AGL champions await result from other semi-final between Real Madrid and Kashima Antlers

Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa celebrates his side's Fifa Club World Cup semi-final win over River Plate on Tuesday night. Chris Whiteoak / The National
Al Ain goalkeeper Khalid Essa celebrates his side's Fifa Club World Cup semi-final win over River Plate on Tuesday night. Chris Whiteoak / The National

Man-of-the-moment Khalid Essa says Al Ain will give everything to fight for the Fifa Club World Cup crown after they made history by becoming the first UAE side to qualify for the final.

The goalkeeper, the national team’s No 1, has been one of the stars of the tournament thus far, twice playing a key role in penalty shootouts to help Al Ain secure a spot in Saturday’s showpiece – where they will face either Real Madrid or Kashima Antlers.

Essa was voted man of the match following Tuesday night’s dramatic victory against South American champions River Plate at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The Emirati made a string of important saves as the match finished 2-2, before diving to his left to repel Enzo Perez in the last kick of the shootout. Al Ain prevailed 5-4 on penalties.

Now, the UAE champions face either defending champions Madrid or Kashima, winners of the Asian Champions League last month, in this weekend's final at Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi.

And having got that far, Essa says there is no need for his team to stop dreaming.

“It’s a great result, an historical event for the Al Ain and UAE,” he said. “We have reached the final and so we will try our best. Now we are going to fight to win it; we have nothing else to aim for. If we reach the final we will try to win. Why not? It will be difficult, but if there is a chance we have to aim high.”

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More from Fifa Club World Cup:

When Mourinho's dismissal was overshadowed by Al Ain's win at Club World Cup

Zoran Mamic: Al Ain reaching Fifa Club World Cup final is the 'greatest thing'

Fifth-place play-off: Esperance de Tunis defeat Guadalajara in penalty shootout

Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi: Players train ahead of semis against Kashima Antlers

Gallery: Real Madrid arrive in Abu Dhabi ahead of Fifa Club World Cup campaign

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On Tuesday, Essa said he had not analysed River Plate’s penalties pre-match, but that he simply felt Perez was going to shoot to the goalkeeper’s left. The Al Ain custodian has been playing through the pain barrier during the tournament, with an injury to his hand requiring injections to get him through games.

Despite that, Essa has been one of the standouts for Al Ain, and also collected the man-of-the-match award for his display in last week's opening play-off victory against New Zealand’s Team Wellington. Asked if he is targeting the player-of-the-tournament gong as well, he replied: "It doesn't matter to me as long as I see all the fans smiles.”

On which team he would like in the final, Essa added: "Real Madrid or Kashima Antlers? I don't know, both of them are difficult for us. We will try to enjoy, try to do all our best, and whoever wins we will say ‘congratulations’."

“For me, this is my best moment in Al Ain. In 2016, I lost the [Asian] Champions League final, so this is the best moment for me. Hopefully we can complete this.”

Updated: December 19, 2018 06:57 PM

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