Al Ain shock River Plate

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar December 21, 2018 07:47

Al Ain shock River Plate

By Satish Sekar at Al Ain’s Hamza Zayed Stadium © Satish Sekar (December 18th 2018)

Unlikely Hero

He defies conventional wisdom on goalkeeping prerequisites, but Khalid Eisa, who stands just 1.78m tall, silenced the naysayers with a Man of the Match performance to defy River Plate and send Al Ain through to the final of the FIFA Club World Cup on Saturday. After a string of fine saves, Eisa emerged the hero in the penalty shoot-out, making the only save from the last spot-kick.

Substitute Enzo Pérez Segui was the only player to fail to core as Eisa made a diving save to his left, which sent Al Ain to the final at River Plate’s expense, just 9 days after the Argentine giants won the Copá Libertadores by beating bitter rivals Boca Juniors. It constitutes a great upset, setting up a likely final against Real Madrid if the reigning champion beat Kashima Antlers, as expected tomorrow night.

Al Ain started brightly. A freekick in the first minute resulted in a corner taken from the right flank by Ahmed Barman. The much-travelled Swede Marcus Berg’ header was deflected across the goal by the keeper and Tongo Doumbia made sure – Berg was credited the goal, and after a brace by River Plate’s young Colombian striker Rafael Santos Borré Maury, Berg was involved in the ‘equaliser.’

Controversies

With his back to goal the ball made its way forward to Egyptian attacking midfielder Hussein el Shahat on the left of the area. El Shahat made no mistake and celebrated his goal, that had seemingly levelled the tie. A goal review resulted in referee Gianluca Rocchi watching it again. He then disallowed the goal – wrongly. The final touch to el Shahat had not come from Berg; it had come from Ignacio Martín Fernández.

Al Ain’s Croatian coach Zoran Mamić made it clear that he had watched the ‘goal’ at halftime, and it was ‘never offside.’ He had seen the touch by the defender and explained why it had to be the defender’s touch. Ultimately, it did not matter as his team went through, but it raised the question of VAR again. The images were there, but the interpretation remains problematic.

River Plate’s coach Marcelo Gallardo credited Al Ain for their win, but said he did not El Shahat’s goal and was not in the mood to watch it at half time.

Mamić was also convinced that his team should have had a penalty. The incident was referred to the referee and Rocchi viewed it before deciding that it was not a handball by Exequiel Palacios, although an apparent trip on Ismael Ahmed was not reviewed. Play had continued resulting in an excellent save by Franco Armani to thwart Mohamed Fayez’s powerful shot.

A goalmouth scramble after Lucas Pratto’s initial shot was saved by Eisa to his left, resulted in the equaliser. Eisa just beat Palacios to the rebound, but Pratto’s second shot was turned in at close range by Borré. Five minutes later Borré latched on to Gonzalo Martínez’ through ball and shot across Eisa from the right to give River Plate a lead they would carry to half time.

Justice Served

Eight minutes earlier Martínez’ fizzing 25-yard effort hit the side netting. Almost from the restart, Al Ain attacked and Mohamed Ahmad made a total hash of a great opportunity, miskicking it wide. Within five minutes the Brasilian, Caio (Caio Lucas Fernandes) – a crowd favourite – scored from the left of the area after being put through by Tukasa Shiotani.

Midway through the half, despite protests, Rocchi gave River Plate a penalty when Mohamed Ahmad and Milan Casco tangled in the area. Al Ain felt justice was done as Martínez’ effort thudded against the bar. Extra time could not separate the teams, although Ahmad had a glorious opportunity late in the second period but from close range his volley was straight at Armani.

Armani came close to saving the penalties of substitutes Bandar al Ahbabi and Rayem Yaslem, but despite getting fingertips to the first and his wrong hand to the second, he could not keep them out. The latter one proving crucial as it went in off his right hand, and was the winning penalty as Pérez’ effort was saved by Eisa.

Satish Sekar
By Satish Sekar December 21, 2018 07:47