Marcus Berg cherishes 'fantastic feeling' of Al Ain's run to the Fifa Club World Cup final
The Swedish striker proud to be involved in historic success for the Arabian Gulf League champions
Marcus Berg conceded his knees were trembling, but in the end he was shaking in delight.
Al Ain’s star striker had long been substituted from Tuesday night’s Fifa Club World Cup semi-final, his body spent having just about recovered from a virus in time to give 75 minutes and no more.
So as the clash against River Plate entered penalties at a pulsating Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, Berg watched from sidelines, hoping Al Ain’s remarkable run through the tournament would continue. His teammates delivered, converting all five from the spot.
It left Khalid Essa to play the hero once more, the UAE goalkeeper diving to his left to push away Enzo Perez’s penalties. Al Ain triumphed 5-4, upset the odds and seen off the new Copa Libertadores champions. Against all expectations, they had thrust into the Club World Cup final.
Berg could barely believe it.
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“Yeah, I was shaking,” he said. “I was more nervous than as if I was out on the pitch. It was a fantastic feeling to see great penalties and a fantastic save in the last one from Khalid.
“We have a great goalkeeper who can win games for us, which is what you need. But I have to praise the whole team, who made an amazing effort.”
They certainly had. Come the conclusion of the River encounter, Al Ain had played 330 minutes and more across their three matches, in the space of six days. Yet they rebounded from 2-1 down to draw level in normal time, survived extra-time and in fact could have won it there, and then saw off the freshly crowned South American champions to progress.
Understandably, Berg paid tribute to his teammates.
“In the end we deserved to win, even though they are a fantastic team,” the Swede said. “We did a great performance. I’m very proud of the team; we tried our best. It’s once in a lifetime this, and together with our fans we showed the right attitude and that we really tried and wanted this. I’m very happy and proud.”
By the end, Berg was so exhausted he could hardly walk, even though he wanted to remain on the pitch, to give that little bit more to the cause. As is expected, he cited recovery as the priority, not just for him, but the whole team. Because, on Saturday at Zayed Sports City Stadium, Al Ain will become the first UAE club to contest the showpiece.
It seems a long way from their tournament opener last Wednesday, the come-from-behind victory on penalties against semi-professional side Team Wellington.
Even from the outset, Berg didn't imagine Al Ain would make it this far.
“Not when we were 3-0 down against Wellington,” he joked. “It was hard to believe, of course. But we changed that game and showed great mentality in the other games. During this journey we started to believe more and more and right now we have to believe we can do a great final.
“We have to go there with the right attitude and believe that we have a chance. No matter who we play, we will do our best to try and make everyone proud. I think we already did, but we will continue: try to work hard and try to achieve a great final also.”
Asked where Al Ain’s exploits rank in UAE football history, Berg thought for a moment, then replied: “It’s high. All the UAE is proud of us because we showed a great mentality and that we have good players and good teams in this league. So it’s good for the whole country what we’re doing today and reaching the final.
“It’s the Club World Cup final and it’s a massive thing for all of us. To play here, in front of our fans and to go to the final, I don’t think a lot of people believed that was possible from the start. So it’s a massive, massive thing for everyone.”
Updated: December 19, 2018 05:55 PM