Real Madrid match-winner Gareth Bale paid tribute to Al Jazira’s fight in their Fifa Club World Cup semi-final as the defending champions now look forward to making history in Abu Dhabi on Saturday.
Introduced at Zayed Sports City stadium on Wednesday night with 10 minutes remaining, Bale grabbed the decisive goal moments later with his first touch to give Madrid a deserved but hard-fought comeback victory.
Despite the Spanish side’s dominance, Jazira had taken an unexpected first-half lead through Romarinho, with Madrid needing Cristiano Ronaldo to level matters soon after the break and then Bale to seal the 2-1 win.
Zinedine Zidane's men now face Brazil's Gremio, the recently crowned Copa Libertadores champions, in the final, as they attempt to become the first team to clinch back-to-back Club World Cup titles.
However, before turning attention to Saturday, Bale gave credit to Jazira and especially Ali Khaseif, after the UAE goalkeeper made a series of outstanding saves in the opening 20 minutes of the semi-final. In the first half alone, Madrid had 17 shots, while Khaseif’s eight saves were the most made this season by any goalkeeper against Madrid before half time.
"It was amazing," Bale said. "He made some amazing saves. We were kind of joking a bit about it on the bench, but then it started to get a bit more serious.
"They made it difficult for us. We had a lot of chances and on another day it could have been more, but you have to give credit to them, they fought hard. We had to get the job done at the end of day and that’s what we did.
“We had control for most of the game. We had a lot of chances. On another day we score five, six, seven goals, but obviously you have these games where sometimes the ball just doesn’t go into the net. It’s football, this happens and you have to just keep fighting and this is all we can do."
The win would have been particularly pleasing for Bale, whose injury problems had restricted him to one appearance in almost three months. This season, he has played little more than 750 minutes for Madrid, although has still managed to score four goals and register five assists.
The Welshman has had several fitness concerns since arriving at the Bernabeu four years ago, but hopes his winner against Jazira can spark the beginning of a sustained run in the side.
“Obviously players go through these phases in their career,” he said. “This is my time, I suppose. It’s been difficult, but it was nice to come on and to get the winner. The most important thing was to get through to the final, it didn’t matter who scored. But it was obviously nice on a personal note.
“For me now it’s about building up my fitness, my confidence and trying to help the team. It’s been a frustrating few months in terms of injuries, so I had to take my time. It’s great to come back today, but I need to be patient with myself.
"It’s a long season and hopefully now I can come back from this and play the rest of the games in the rest of the season without any problems.
“It’s physical,” he added. “It’s nothing to do with my mind. As I said, it’s just one of those times where I’m having a few problems. Since the operation on my ankle, things in my body have changed so I have to be patient.
"I just need to work hard. I’m doing everything I possibly can off the pitch to get myself back to full fitness. And hopefully I can come back and be strong for the rest of the season.”
Asked about facing Gremio in Saturday’s showpiece, Bale said: "I didn't even know who was in the final until you just said. Now we'll recover from this and pay our attention to the next game. We came here to win the trophy and defend our crown.”