Ali Mabkhout winner sets up Fifa Club World Cup semi-final against Real Madrid
Al Jazira striker on target as Arabian Gulf League champions overcome the champions of Asia Urawa Red Diamonds at Zayed Sports City stadium
Al Jazira have seen off the champions of Asia. Next up? The small matter of the champions of the world.
At 9pm on Wednesday at the Zayed Sports City stadium in Abu Dhabi, the biggest match in the history of UAE club football will take place.
By beating Urawa Red Diamonds, Jazira have earned a semi-final against the defending Club World Cup champions, Real Madrid.
The team of Cristiano Ronaldo and Zinedine Zidane. Of 33 Spanish league titles. The defending Uefa Champions League winners. That’s all.
Madrid’s pedigree hardly requires labouring. But they have won Europe’s most coveted title more times since 2014 – three – than Jazira have won their domestic league in their entire history.
How the two-time winners of the Arabian Gulf League will be relishing the opportunity to mix it with the global stars from Spain.
All tickets for that fixture had long-since been sold, on the basis that Madrid would be here. Having home-city representation was never a given.
The Spanish giants will be flying in on Monday, fresh from a Primera Liga thrashing of Sevilla. Jazira’s win over Urawa, meanwhile, was their second match already in this competition.
They beat Auckland City in Al Ain on Wednesday in a play-off by the same single goal margin – and they looked more laboured in doing so than they did in dispatching Asia’s top side.
Ali Mabkhout gift-wrapped the perfect birthday present for Henk ten Cate, the Jazira manager, when he struck the winner in the 52nd minute.
The match was the second of a double-header at Zayed Sports City. Few fans stayed on after the first game, in which Pachuca of Mexico beat 10-man Wydad Casablanca.
The result in the opener had rather subdued the mood. Wydad’s supporters had been in great voice, as well as relatively sizeable number.
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They had asked for extra Arab support ahead of their game. It might not have helped the Moroccans, but clearly at least a few of their number stuck around to add their voice to Jazira’s effort.
Several Moroccan flags were placed beside the Jazrawi, who had assembled near the halfway line.
The Moroccan supporters had another reason to stay. Mbark Boussoufa, the Jazira No 10, has 55 caps for Morocco. He revelled in being centre of the extra attention, and was central to the Abu Dhabi-side's first-half impetus.
Midway through the first phase, his deft footwork earned him a chance to cross, and his appetising centre was met by a powerful header from Musallem Fayez. Shusaku Nishikawa, in the Urawa goal, was alert enough to paw it away.
Jazira might have been a goal behind by that point. Yosuke Kashiwagi had wasted a simple opportunity, somehow fumbling a shot over the Jazira crossbar when it had seemed easier to score.
Mabkhout squandered Jazira’s best chance of the opening phase. The UAE forward failed to control a brilliant through ball by Mohammed Al Attas when clean through on goal.
And yet he made no mistake when the move was almost precisely replicated after half time.
This time it was Romarinho who played the role of Al Attas, playing a slide-rule pass through a hole in the centre of the Urawa defence.
Mabkhout coolly slid his shot between the legs of Nishikawa to give the Abu Dhabi side the advantage.
Understandably, given what was at stake, Jazira started to drop deeper to defend their lead, allowing the Japanese side chances.
They could convert none, though, as the side flying the flag for Abu Dhabi and UAE closed out a famous success.
Updated: December 10, 2017 08:05 AM