- Al Ain beat Esperance 3-0 to book place in last four
- Bandar Al Ahbabi scored his side’s third to cap a commanding performance
- Bandar reflects on match, looks ahead to semi-final with River
After conceding three goals in the first half of their FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 opener against Team Wellington, Al Ain were determined to keep things tight at the back in the early exchanges with Esperance. Not only did the hosts manage to keep the CAF Champions League winners at bay, they also scored early, and were able to add second and third goals to end the dreams of the Tunisian giants.
It was clear that Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic had worked on ensuring his players kept their eye on the ball right from the kick-off. Bandar Al Ahbabi confirmed as much to FIFA.com: “The coach asked us to to fully concentrate from the start. Being switched on right from the off always gives the team an edge,” he said. “We didn’t focus well in our first match and conceded three goals but we came back in the second half and ultimately got through.”
A modern-day full-back
Modern football sees the right and left backs push on to create numerical superiority up front and more space on the sides. Al Ain’s wing-backs have been stand-out performers at the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 so far, and Bandar Al Ahbabi’s third goal was further evidence of that.
Speaking about the goal he scored after he converted a pull-back from team-mate Caio, Bandar said: “I decided to advance a bit and changed my position. I got an easy chance and slotted the ball into the net.”
Al Ahbabi believes the tactical plan of making use of the wings is paying dividends. “If you watch football in Europe, teams like Real Madrid and Barcelona, you will notice that football has changed,” he said. “Teams have become very dependent on the left and right back. Our side is capable of holding on to the ball, enabling our wing-backs to advance, and we do our best to contribute.”
Ready for River Plate
With the win over Esperance behind them, Al Ahbabi and his team-mates are already turning their attention to their semi-final opponents, Copa Libertadores winners River Plate, who come to UAE fresh from their triumph over Boca Juniors. Al Ahbabi said: “I watched them against Boca Juniors and they are a very good team with great potential. We respect every opponent, and we have to put in a performance that is worthy of a semi-final.”
Before signing off, Al Ahbabi touched on his team’s ambitions at the tournament, now that they have matched Al Jazira’s run to the semi-finals last year. Al Jazira fell at the penultimate hurdle to eventual winners Real Madrid, but Al Ain are aiming to go one better and register the best result for a UAE team at the finals.
Bandar believes that is an achievable goal, and that Al Ain are looking forward to going to as far as possible in the tournament. “Our ambitions are very high when we face any side regardless of their name,” he said. “The most important thing for us is to strongly represent UAE. We have done well so far, but we are determined to go as far as possible as we believe we haven’t done what we want yet.”