Zoran Mamic, the Al Ain coach, believes his side achieved the greatest result in the history of UAE football by beating River Plate in the Fifa Club World Cup on Tuesday night.
Khalid Essa, the UAE national team goalkeeper, was again the hero, as his save sent Al Ain through to the final after they played out a thrilling 120 minutes for the second time in six days.
Back then, in the first match of the tournament the Arabian Gulf League champions muddled through to a penalty shoot-out win against a side of part-time players from New Zealand.
This time around, they beat one of football’s most historic clubs, booking their place in Saturday’s final in Abu Dhabi – which could potentially be against the might of Real Madrid.
They were good value for the win, too. They took a lead in the third minute, with Marcus Berg eventually being credited with the goal after Al Ain bundled the ball in at a corner.
The much-fancied Copa Libertadores champions hit back with two goals for Santos Borre, their centre forward, but Caio, Al Ain’s own South American import, levelled in the second half.
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Al Ain had been denied what appeared a fair goal after Hussein El Shahat was ruled to be offside after a video review. The Egyptian forward had been marginally offside when the ball went set through to him, but it had come off a River defender.
Al Ain survived a scare when Gonzalo Martinez struck the bar with a penalty. They took it to penalties, and scored all five of theirs, before Essa, leaping to his left, beat away the penalty of Enzo Perez.
“It is a great, great achievement, I think the biggest result in the history of the country and Al Ain,” Mamic said.
“I am proud to be part of this success. For the first time in our history we won the double [last season], now we are through to the final of the Club World Cup.
“For everyone, when we talk about sport, this must have been the greatest thing that happened.”
Al Ain’s final opponents will be decided when Real Madrid, the defending champions, take on Kashima Antlers, the champions of Asia, at Zayed Sports City on Wednesday.
Mamic said his players deserve to celebrate the win over River, but that they must take care with their recovery, given their heavy workload.
“What happened tonight is an incredible thing,” Mamic said. “In the space of 15 days, tonight was our fifth game.
“It is incredible what my players did tonight, how much energy, how much love for football, how much spirit, how much support for each other [the showed].
“They deserve to enjoy this moment. We have in front of us four days for recover. We have to use these four days in the best possible way, because it will be very, very hard for us.”