Croat Zoran Mamić will be hoping to lead Al-Ain to its greatest achievement tomorrow night as they face Argentina’s River Plate in the semifinals of the Club World Cup in Al-Ain. The club’s home – Hazza Bin Zayed stadium will host the South American champions however, the former will be stepping into the visitors’ locker room for their third stint in as little as a week.
While Al-Ain had qualified to the tournament as the domestic league champions of the host nation, the team has put in the performance to prove themselves having defeated Team Wellington and Africa’s representatives Espérance Sportive de Tunis, respectively.
While the Croat's side will be considered as an underdog, the venue of Tuesday’ clash will be what his side will be relying on. He will call on a whole host of international flavor at the club’s dismissal as he goes in search of an upset that could see the side to be the second Asian and the first Emirati side to cement their place in the tournament. For Mamić, this will also raise his profile among his peers and could potentially place his stake among one of the region’s most decorated coaches.
Al-Ain will be buoyed by the presence of their in-form Swede striker Marcus Berg as he comes back from an illness. Backing him will be wingers Brazilian Ciao and Egyptian Hussein El-Shahat, both of whom playing a significant role in unsettling Espérance’s defenders.
However, the most significant aspect of the match-up, from Al-Ain’s perspective would be centered on the club’s Japanese player Tsukasa Shiotani who had faced River Plate during his time at Sanfrecce Hiroshima as they played each other in a semifinal match in the 2015 edition of the tournament.
Dreams do comes true for Ainawees as illustrated by a life-long supporter of the club - Saeed Al-Balooshi.
"As an Al-Ain fan, it was a dream for us to watch the club play in the Club World Cup, but after we qualified our dreams were heightened. It's a matter of 90 min, fight fight fight, step by step, it’s becoming true. In Al-Ain we believe," said Al-Balooshi.
For River Plate, they would be looking at securing their second ever shot at the finals having secured it previously in 2015. Prior to that, the club had won the tournament on its debut in 1986 and also losing against Juventus in the 96’ final.
"We all agree that River Plate is a great team, but am pretty sure if Al-Ain plays in the manned that we did the last game, it won’t be easy for the Argentinians. At the same time we are so proud of Al-Ain was able to achieve thus far and we will be for ever," said Al-Balooshi.