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Real Madrid put Al-Ain's fairy tale tournament to an end Open in fullscreen

Uri Levy

Real Madrid put Al-Ain's fairy tale tournament to an end

Al-Ain fell at the last hurdle [Getty]

Date of publication: 23 December, 2018

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UAE football club Al-Ain's fairy tale tournament has ended with a heroic performance against Real Madrid.

Every fairy tale has an end. The Emirati super club, Al-Ain, stunned the world with their progress in the Club World Cup final, which for the Arab world seemed to be a fairy tale that might keep on going.

With their heroic comeback against Team Wellington from New Zealand, a decisive victory against Mexican Chivas and the unbelievable draw and penalty shoot-out victory against South American champions River Plate, the hype before Al-Ain's clash with the current European and World Cup champions Real Madrid - the eternal obsession and passion of almost every Arab sports fan - was up to the sky.

On Saturday evening, at the Sheikh Zayed Sports City Stadium in Abu Dhabi, Az-Zaim ("the Boss") were ready to play their biggest match ever, in a historic moment for the Emirati club. Playing against Real Madrid in a final for an official title is something no other UAE club has done before.

When the game started, the differences were quickly noticed, as Madrid quickly got onto the scoreboard after 13 minutes thanks to a Luka Modric goal. Yet, Al-Ain didn't collapse. Zoran Mamic's players were well-organised in their positions and went out on dangerous counter-attacks. Throughout the game, Al-Ain kept on fighting and they performed like a lower or medium-level top-flight European side.

Al-Ain conceded three more from Marcos Llorente, Sergio Ramos and an own-goal by Yahia Nader, but managed to get one back thanks to a nice header from Japanese star Tsukasa Shiotani.

Besides the fact that every clash between a Middle Eastern team and the Spanish giant is accompanied by surreal expectations from the audience, and despite the loss, this time Al-Ain actually nailed an outstanding achievement.

As a team that only got the chance to participate because the tournament was played in the UAE - where they are the reigning champions - Al-Ain enjoyed a huge boost to its reputation with their success in competition.

The players too haven't missed out either. Brazilian Caio was voted the second best player in the tournament, and by according to various reports is already attracting attention of a number of European teams. Goalkeeper Khaled Eissa was spectacular throughout the whole tournament, winning two penalty shoot-outs. Egyptian Hussein El-Shahat was immensely lethal, Marcus Berg's performance was of a European calibre, and even Mohammed Abdulrahman, Amoory’s less talented brother, showed leadership and qualities that made many question who is the better footballer in the family.

All in all, the Club World Cup was great practice for the UAE before the forthcoming Asian Cup, which will kick start in less than two weeks in the UAE. Al-Ain also has made a great name for itself and for Gulf football in general.

Uri Levy runs the popular football blog BabaGol, which covers football and politics focusing on the Middle East. Follow him on Twitter, and read his blog here.

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