Henk ten Cate: Al Jazira will 'fight like lions' in Club World Cup play-off against Auckland City
Injuries, suspensions and a number of off-field issues have contributed to a disappointing domestic campaign so far, but attentions now turn to the Oceania champions.
Henk ten Cate says his young Al Jazira side will “fight like lions” in their Fifa Club World Cup opener against Auckland City on Wednesday.
The UAE champions, competing in the tournament for the first time, kick off the seven-team event at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium in Al Ain, when they take on a club making a record ninth appearance.
Nevertheless, Jazira go into the play-off as slight favourites, given “home” advantage and that Auckland operate as an amateur side.
Should they win, Jazira will set up a quarter-final clash with Japan’s Urawa Red Diamonds, the recently crowned Asian champions, on Saturday in Abu Dhabi. Real Madrid await the victor next week in the last four.
Jazira’s preparations have been far from perfect, though, with the capital club struggling somewhat in this season’s Arabian Gulf League. Injuries, suspensions and a number of off-field issues have contributed to them sitting fourth after 10 rounds, meaning the likes of Mohammed Al Attas, 20, and Essa Al Otaibah, 19, have been given game-time.
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Jazira were rocked with more bad news this week, when regulars Mohammed Fawzi and Mohammed Jamal withdrew from the squad through injury.
However, Ten Cate insists his team will still be ready to give everything against Auckland.
“Due to different circumstances, a lot of the games we’ve played with only one foreign player,” said the Dutchman, who confirmed playmaker Mbark Boussoufa is available again having not featured in the league since November 3. “So we gave the chance to a lot of young players to play in Al Jazira’s first team, which in the end is a big bonus. Whether it works out tomorrow I can’t say yes or no.
“But I can say one thing: I’m extremely proud of this team. Especially because of the preparation given all the circumstances - missing players, players injured, difficulties of whatever kind.
“This team will be there tomorrow. And regardless of the result, I know one thing for sure: that we will fight like lions and we will do our utmost to get a good result. About the young players, I can tell you this: if you are good enough, you are old enough.”
Ten Cate described it as “a dream come true” for the younger players to participate in the Club World Cup, but he warned his side not to underestimate Auckland.
The Oceania champions have significant experience in the tournament and in 2009, when the Emirates staged the event for the first time, they defeated Dubai’s Al Ahli in the play-off. At present, Auckland sit top of their national league.
When asked on Tuesday about the possibility of facing defending champions Madrid next week, Ten Cate responded: "If people keep talking about Real Madrid, it’s disrespectful to Auckland, first, and then to Urawa Red Diamonds. They are good teams and you have to beat them first.
“I do not understand these questions about playing Madrid. We want to play the final, that's what we want. We enter the competition to win it, as we always do no matter what competition it is. It's the same here. If it is realistic, we will wait and see. But first thing first is Auckland.”
Meanwhile, Ten Cate's opposite number, Ramon Tribulietx, is under no illusion the size of the task facing his players. Auckland shocked the tournament in 2014, when they reached the semi-finals, but in the past two years have fallen at the first hurdle.
While optimistic his team can spring another surprise, Spaniard Tribulietx remains realistic.
“Very difficult,” he said. “We understand Al Jazira is a very good rival, a very talented team. We’ve seen a lot of talent, especially in the front line, so we’re aware of that and we understand how tough the challenge is going to be. This is the next level of football; we play week-in, week-out at a different level.
"But we’ve been here before, we understand what it takes to compete at this level. So we just hope to be able to challenge them tomorrow. When you look on paper, this is a big step up for us.
"Yes, we are getting better, yes we’ve got the experience, so we understand what it takes to play a game like this. We understand the difference playing at our level and then coming up for this. We know the mindset we need to compete well.”
Updated: December 5, 2017 07:57 PM