Gulf in quality between Real Madrid and Al Jazira huge, but Ten Cate pledges to fight in Fifa Club World Cup semi-finals
Manager under no illusions about his team's chances of beating reigning world champions, but he says opponents will not find it easy to win
Henk ten Cate is under no illusion as to the size of the task facing Al Jazira on Wednesday, but says his side will fight to the end in their “life-changing” Fifa Club World Cup semi-final against Real Madrid.
The 63-year-old Dutchman leads his team into the marquee match against the reigning Spanish, European and world champions at Zayed Sports City in Abu Dhabi, with a place in the final considered highly unlikely.
Jazira may be UAE champions, and have surpassed expectations in reaching the last four. However they face now arguably the biggest club in football.
Madrid have brought a strong squad to the Emirates - Cristiano Ronaldo, last week’s recipient of the Ballon d’Or, has travelled - as they attempt to become the first side to retain the Club World Cup.
As such, Ten Cate recognises fully that Jazira are underdogs, but insisted his team should still go into the encounter with nothing to fear.
Asked on Tuesday what would constitute success against Madrid, Ten Cate joked he would need to park three buses to keep out their lofty opponents, before adding: “Dreaming is ok, but you must not become stupid. You have to be realistic. And, if you are realistic, the chances of getting a result and winning, are not really big.
“The difference in quality is just too huge. But my team will fight, like they did before. They will fight until the bitter end.”
It represents a fine achievement given the Abu Dhabi club, Club World Cup debutants, have had to deal with a number of key absentees. They have therefore relied on a selection of younger players, such as Essa Al Otaibah, 19, and Mohammed Al Attas, 20.
“First of all, big surprise that we are sitting here of course,” Ten Cate said. “Nobody expected it. We only believed in it and dreamt about it, so it’s a big for thing for us. Playing against a big club like Real Madrid is really something special for all of us.
“And I think, with all our achievements, we put the country, UAE football, more on the map. Participating in tournament like this, and achieving what we have achieved, will help give UAE football a boost.”
Ten Cate confirmed that Jazira have some fresh injury concerns to contend with, but said the players affected will be assessed at training on Tuesday night and then again the following morning to see if they can be made available.
Striker Ali Mabkhout, who scored the winner in the quarter-final, is a serious doubt having picked up a knock against Urawa.
Ten Cate said, though, that the opportunity to play against a club of Madrid’s stature means his players are looking forward to testing themselves on such a stage.
“We don’t need to motivate our team, and especially the young players,” he said. “The young players play PlayStation on the bus when we go to away games and a lot of them support Real Madrid, so they know all the players.
“It’s kind of funny in fact, that the same boys who are playing PlayStation on the bus are tomorrow facing the real stars. It’s good. For them, it’s like probably a life-changing situation.
“If you look up to big players and now you are facing, for instance Cristiano Ronaldo who won five golden balls, and you’re standing next to him in the tunnel to enter the field to play against him? I can only imagine what it means to those boys.
"In terms of motivation, they are super-motivated. I hope they are not too nervous. But it’s going to be alright, I think.”
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As a former manager of Ajax in his homeland, and an assistant at Barcelona and Chelsea, Ten Cate has experienced much in football. During his time at Camp Nou, he helped the Catalan giants win successive Primera Liga titles, and the Uefa Champions League, in 2006.
Yet he says the current run with Jazira has trumped everything he has achieved before.
“Being here with Al Jazira is probably my biggest thing I did,” Ten Cate said. “In the semi-finals of the Club World Cup with a team from the UAE? This is almost something that you cannot imagine. We are here, we are here. And we are proud to be here.”
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Updated: December 12, 2017 11:17 PM