River Plate manager Marcelo Gallardo wary of 'dangerous' Al Ain in Fifa Club World Cup semi-final
Copa Libertadores champions face the Arabian Gulf League title holders on Tuesday night at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium
It has been a challenging few weeks for River Plate, and their manager Marcelo Gallardo is not expecting things to get any easier on Tuesday night when they face Al Ain for a place in the Fifa Club World Cup final.
The match-up for the Argentine side comes after the drawn-out process of the Copa Libertadores final against Boca Juniors.
The second leg was postponed after Boca's team bus was attacked before the second leg at River's Monumental stadium. The match was then moved from South America to Madrid on December 9, 15 days after the tie was originally due to have been completed.
River Plate won the match in Madrid 3-1 to claim the title 5-3 on aggregate and they now face an Al Ain side at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium who have had their own rollercoaster week.
They came from three goals down to beat semi-professional Team Wellington on penalties before comfortably defeating African champions Esperance de Tunis 3-0 in the quarter-finals.
Gallardo said he and his side were not looking beyond the Arabian Gulf League champions at a potential final showdown with Real Madrid on Saturday in Abu Dhabi and their focus is firmly on Tuesday night.
“I think it’s going to be a tough match and they have shown they deserve to be in the semis," he said. “They are an enthusiastic team, dangerous when attacking and we will try to have a high degree of concentration, so we won’t suffer or be surprised.
“We want to play the way we know we can, which got us to this competition. It’s a beautiful feeling to have this opportunity, we will take advantage of it to the maximum."
Gallardo acknowledged their preparations have been less then ideal, largely due to the problems of getting the Copa final completed.
The delay of playing the second leg left them with just nine days to prepare for the Club World Cup, where they will bid to become the first Argentine side to win the competition and the first non-European outfit since 2012.
“We faced many challenges to play the second leg final and haven’t had the time to even celebrate that title," Gallardo said.
“As it is, it’s hard for any South American club to travel after such a tough competition like the Copa. This time it was even harder because of the rescheduling of the second leg final and playing the match in Madrid.”
Regardless, Gallardo is confident his side can do themselves justice in the UAE.
“We are very positive, but we also know, if we get carried away, it will have negative consequences as we know we are going to face a dangerous opponent," he said. "I know that, players know that, so I don’t think we are going to suffer in that sense.”
This is River Plate's second appearance at the Club World Cup, coming after they lost in the 2015 final in Yokohama, Japan, to Barcelona 3-0.
But Gallardo believes the side can ride the momentum of their success against Boca to pick up more silverware in the UAE.
“We are now here with the energy of having just won the Copa,” he said. “We have the same team, same players, it’s a different proposal that is very good for us because we have a lot of good energy to face this tournament with a winning wish.”
Defender Jonatan Maidana echoed his manager's view that they would not be taking Al Ain lightly, but is confident they will be triumphant.
“Al Ain are a strong side and we have to be careful from midfield to attack," he said. "They are very fast with tall players who are good in the air.
“We pay attention to that and show respect, as we have given teams before, but we think if we play the way we know we can, we can make the final.”
Updated: December 18, 2018 07:25 AM