Al Ain: Al Jazira coach Henk ten Cate is relishing the prospect of playing in a global tournament ahead of his side’s FIFA Club World Cup 2017 opening match against New Zealand’s Auckland City on Wednesday.
The Dutchman believes the competition offers a platform for his men to show their true colours after an inconsistent start to their domestic league season saw them linger mid-table for weeks, before recently moving up to fourth in the UAE Pro League.
Winning the 2016/17 domestic championship meant Al Jazira will be the host nation’s representatives in the inter-continental event, taking place in the UAE for the third time. And ten Cate wants to make the nation proud on and off the pitch.
“The eyes of the world are focused on us and I think that is a fantastic opportunity, not just for the players, but also for the club and the country to present itself in a proper way and make everyone proud,” he said.
“I have confidence in my team; we won the league last season, but now we play in another level. We are playing for Abu Dhabi and for the UAE and our aim is to make them proud.”
The winner of the clash at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium will book a date with 2017 AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds in the quarter-finals and ten Cate called on UAE fans to propel his side to victory against their opponents.
“Of course, Auckland City are a serious threat. It will be a big, big game for us and I hope we have a lot of supporters in the game, not just from Al Jazira fans, but from every football lover in the UAE,” he added. “We want fans to come in masses to the stadium in Al Ain so we can play with the ‘12th player’ advantage.”
‘The Pride of Abu Dhabi’ have struggled with injuries to key players this season, including top goal scorer Ali Mabkhout who missed a chunk of the season before returning to full fitness in recent week.
Al Jazira’s Uzbekistan winger Sardor Rashidov is excited to play at the FIFA Club World Cup.
Another player who has not featured frequently for ten Cate is winger Sardor Rashidov.
The 26-year-old joined Al Jazira from Qatar’s El Jaish (now Al Duhail) in the summer and has found playing time hard to come by.
The Uzbek international remains excited about the chance to play against top clubs in the FIFA Club World Cup.
“It is a new experience for me as a player, I hope we play well and score goals. I have only been in the UAE for a few months, so it is a new country for me too,” said Rashidov.
“In some ways, it is not too different to Qatar where I played before. There are good teams here too and the overall level of football is good.
“Our first game against Auckland City will not be an easy one. We have to try to win our first two matches, then we can think about facing Real Madrid [in the semi-final]. It is difficult, but we have to try.”
Photos: Lagardère Sports