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FIFA Club World Cup

'No one can believe we're playing Real Madrid' - Almunia

14:41 GMT+3 13/12/2017
Ali Mabkhout Al Jazira Club World Cup
The UAE Arabian League champions Al Jazira take on Champions League holders Real Madrid in the FIFA Club World Cup semi-finals in Abu Dhabi

There is a sense of disbelief at Al Jazira as the United Arab Emirates title holders relish the prospect of a FIFA Club World Cup semi-final against Real Madrid in Abu Dhabi on Wednesday. 

That's according to Manuel Almunia, the former Arsenal goalkeeper who is now working at Al Jazira as the club's goalkeeping coach. 

Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale & Co. lie in wait for Al Jazira at the Zayed Sports City Stadium in what will be the biggest game in the history of club football in the UAE

And Almunia admits that the opportunity to play against the European champions provided an extra motivation for the players in their quarter-final victory against AFC Asian Champions League holders Urawa Red Diamonds. 

"You only have to see their faces after winning against Urawa, the Japanese team," he told Goal. "Before that match, everybody was talking about it being great to reach the semi-final of such a good tournament but it’s doubly exciting to reach the semi-final because we will play against Real Madrid.

"I think that was real the factor to make everybody play really, really hard against the Japanese team."

Real Madrid have won the last two Champions Leagues and are reigning Club World Cup champions too but they have not always been at their best during this season. They suffered a heavy loss to Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley and have already slipped eight points behind Barcelona in La Liga with a pre-Christmas Clasico to come. 

"When you have two great seasons like Real Madrid had in the last years, there is a season that the results are not as good as before," said Almunia. "This is normal, this is football. But still this is Real Madrid, one of the biggest. We must respect them so much.

"People don’t believe it that we're  playing against Madrid, it’s a big reward for us."

The winners of Wednesday's semi-final will face Gremio in Saturday's final after the Copa Libertadores holders overcame Pachuca in Al Ain on Tuesday after extra-time.