Al Jazira 1-0 Auckland City
Jazira: Romarinho 38'
Al Jazira booked their place in the Fifa Club World Cup quarter-finals with a hard-fought 1-0 victory in the tournament opener against Auckland City in Al Ain on Wednesday.
The UAE champions, the host representatives, negotiated their play-off at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, with a first-half goal from Romarinho enough to see off the New Zealand side.
Jazira will now face Urawa Red Diamonds, winners of last month’s Asian Champions League, in the last eight on Saturday at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City.
Henk ten Cate’s men were made to work for their win, though, grabbing the winner – a fine low strike from 20 yards – seven minutes before half time against the run of play. Auckland, making a record ninth appearance at the Club World Cup, had enjoyed the better of the opening half hour, with Callum McCowatt spurning a great opportunity right on 30 minutes. The young forward, 19, ran onto a Ryan de Vries pull-back, but fired a weak shot straight at Ali Khaseif in the Jazira goal.
Eight minutes later, the Abu Dhabi club seized the lead. Playing off the left flank, Romarinho exchanged a quick one-two with Ali Mabkhout and, after Auckland failed to clear, the Brazilian drilled his shot beyond Auckland goalkeeper Enaut Zubikari. Romarinho, a summer signing having arrived in the UAE on a free transfer, won the Club World Cup with Brazil’s Corinthians in 2012.
Semi-finalists two years after that, Auckland came out for the second half intent on finding a way back into the game. On 50 minutes, De Vries pounced on a loose ball in the Jazira penalty area, but lost possession before he could test Kasheif. The ball then rolled to midfielder Cameron Howeison, only for Kasheif to palm away his effort for a corner. Minutes later, UAE defender Fares Juma had to block another goalbound shot from Howeison.
Auckland continued to press for the equaliser, and came close once more when Fabrizio Tavano’s impromptu volley finished inches over the Jazira crossbar.
The hosts struggled for any rhythm throughout, as they attempted to cope with a host of injuries to key players, including defender Mohammed Fawzi and midfielder Mohammed Jamal. As a result, Ten Cate began with youngsters Mohammed Al Attas, 20, and Essa Al Ataibah, 19, at the base of his midfield.
The experienced Mbark Boussoufa, meanwhile, made a welcome return following more than one month out, although Jazira were still without former Real Madrid midfielder Lassana Diarra and UAE striker Ahmed Khalil.
Consequently, they were penned back for long spells as Auckland sensed an opportunity to draw level. The Oceania champions, who still operate as an amateur side, should have restored parity 15 minutes from time, when Howeison found space down his team’s left and squared brilliantly for De Vries.
Yet, with the goal gaping, the forward could fire only straight at a grateful Kasheif. Ramon Tribulietx, the Auckland manager stood on the edge of his technical area, held his head in his hands. At the other end, Mabkhout stung the palms of Zubikari with a low shot from distance.
Jazira just about held on, much to the delight of the 4,000-plus crowd. They will have to improve significantly against Japan’s Urawa this weekend, but crucially the UAE’s representatives now enter the tournament proper.