A wonder goal scored by league leaders Al Ain in the United Arab Emirates has gone viral and it is easy to see why.
Currently top of the UAE Pro-League by a huge nine point margin, Al Ain are the record champions in the oil rich nation with ten league championships to their name. Al Ain, based in the Emirate of Abu Dhabi, have only lost one game so far this season and that defeat came on the opening day of the season against Al Ahli. Since then Al Ain have won twelve out of their next thirteen games in the league and are still competing in both domestic cup competitions, namely the Emirates Cup (group stages) and the President’s Cup (their quarter-final tie against Bani Yas is on February 10th).
The most recent league match saw the runaway league leaders stroll to a 4-0 win over 10th place Ajman FC. Just the one goal separated the two teams at the half-time break, Jires Kembo-Ekoko breaking the deadlock in the 10th minute, but the second half saw Al Ain break clear with further strikes from Alex Brosque and Omar Abdulrahman before substitute Yousef Ahmad completed the rout in fine style. He got on the end of a flowing move which involved the whole team and contained no fewer than 19 passes and helped widen the gap at the top of the table between Al Ain (37 points) and nearest challengers Al Jazira and Bani Yas, both of whom have 28 points.
United Arab Emirates won this year’s Gulf Cup of Nations on Friday night. They needed extra-time before eventually seeing off tough opposition in the form of Iraq with Ismail Al Hammadi’s winner in the 107th minute proving the difference between the two sides.
Both nations had emerged top of their respective groups in the league stages, both of whom registering a 100% record with three wins from three, but were made to fight it out in the semi-finals with the UAE knocking out Kuwait with a goal in the 89th minute whilst Iraq needed a penalty shoot-out in order to dispose of tournament hosts Bahrain after they had been involved in a 1-1 draw.
In Friday’s final United Arab Emirates took the lead after 27 minutes thanks to Omar Abdulrahman but, with the match petering out into the closing stages, Iraq found an equalizer in the 80th minute with Younis Mahmoud getting himself on the score sheet. Cue extra-time and a winning strike from Al Hammadi two minutes into the second period gave the UAE their second Gulf Cup of Nations title, just six years after their maiden triumph.
The 2013 Gulf Cup of Nations kicks off this weekend in Bahrain with the tournament hosts getting things under way on Saturday facing off against Oman in the opening match. Defending champions Kuwait, who are hoping to win the tournament for a record extending eleventh time, will get their campaign under way on Sunday against Yemen.
Kuwait’s victory in the 2010 tournament was the first time they had won the trophy for twelve years, a substantial drought given that they had previously been so successful in a competition which began in 1970. Their narrow 1-0 win over Saudi Arabia in 2010 was sealed in extra-time thanks to midfielder Waleed Ali, leaving many Kuwaiti football fans to hope of a return to the days of dominance they enjoyed before 1998. Kuwait won the first four editions of this tournament from 1970-76 and went on to win it another five times in the next 22 years. From 1998, however, Saudi Arabia enjoyed a brief period of success winning back-to-back titles in 2002 and 2003. Qatar enjoyed home success in 2004 before a pair of first-time champions – namely United Arab Emirates and Oman – hoisted the trophy aloft in 2007 and 2009 respectively. Kuwait’s win in 2010 was a huge relief to the nation but it also brings back the pressure of defending the title, something which they will begin to do in Group B along with Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Bahrain are tournament hosts swapping the role with Iraq who are now expected to host the event in 2015. This is the fourth time that Bahrain will host the event, following on from the 1970, 1986 and 1998 tournaments, and on no such occasion have they ended up as champion. Indeed, out of the eight participants featuring in the Gulf Cup, only Bahrain and Yemen have yet to emerge victorious in the history of the competition. The hosts will feature in Group A with Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates making up the rest of a potentially tight group.
The group stages will finish on January 12th and will then see the top two of each group meet in the semi-finals three days later. Finals day comes on January 18th with a third/fourth place play-off beginning proceedings in Isa Town before the final match takes place in the Bahrain National Stadium in Riffa.
The Asian Games football tournament concluded in the Chinese city of Ghangzhou today with a tense final which was eventually settled by a late Yuki Saneto strike to give Japan a maiden title. In the third place play-off, which took place directly before the final, South Korea were minutes away from losing to Iran only for a late double strike from Dong Won-Ji to give the Koreans the bronze medal.
In the third place play-off Iran started well and were worthy of their 2-0 lead at the end of the first half. Gholamreza Razaei gave Iran the lead after just five minutes with Ali Asgari doubling the advantage on the edge of half-time. The second half would provide many a thrill for the watching spectators as the goals flew in; Ja-Cheol Koo halved the deficit to 2-1 after 48 minutes only for Iran to restore their two goal lead sixty seconds later through Karim Ansarifard. As the game wore on it seemed the Iranians were going to hold out for the bronze but the Koreans came back again. Chu Young-Park pulled a goal back in the 78th minute to make the score 3-2 and, with just two minutes remaining, Dong Won-Ji performed his cameo with a brace in the dying moments to overturn the deficit and take a 4-3 lead as the game entered stoppage time. It was a great way to end the opening match of the day.
Japan went into the Gold Medal match against a United Arab Emirates side who had defied expectations to reach their first ever final. Perhaps this expectation weighed heavily on the UAE who were unable to break the stubborn resistance of a well organised Japanese side. The eventual champions had to wait a long time themselves before settling the contest in their favour. The winning goal was scored in the 74th minute by Yuki Saneto, whose strike gave his country a long awaited first tournament win in the Asian Games.
The FIFA Club World Cup is well under way now in the United Arab Emirates and, as expected, there will be a showdown between European champions FC Barcelona and their South American equivalents Estudiantes de la Plata on Saturday, December 19th. Stoppage Time looks at the tournament so far.
The tournament kicked off in Abu Dhabi with the Oceania representatives Auckland City FC, who had previously participated in this tournament in 2006, winning the first match against host team Al Ahli FC 2-0 thanks to goals from Adam Dickinson and Chad Coombes. Thanks to that win the New Zealanders had already achieved their main goal which was to qualify for the quarter-finals, in which they played against North/Central America champions Atlante CF (Mexico). Alas they were unable to progress any further as the Mexicans cruised into the semi-finals winning the game 3-0 due to strikes from Daniel Arreola, Christian Bermudez and Lucas Silva. In the other quarter-final it was a Brazilian who helped Asian champions Pohang Steelers (South Korea) overcome a half-time deficit as Denilson’s two second half goals helped see off the challenge from African Champions League winners TP Mazembe (Congo DR) in a close match 2-1.
The big two of the tournament entered at the semi-final stage. First to play were Estudiantes (Argentina) against Pohang Steelers. Although the Argentines enjoyed twice the amount of possession and had nearly three times as many shots at goal as their opponents they were made to work hard by a Pohang side that were tough to break down. Leandro Benitez scored two minutes into first half stoppage time to give “the Students” the advantage at half-time and followed that with his second goal eight minutes into the second half. It was the Koreans’ own South American influence that brought them back into the game when Denilson pulled one back after 71 minutes. However their discipline, or lack of it, proved their undoing as they had three players sent off the pitch. Two of the players, Kim Jae Sung and goalkeeper Shin Hwa Yong, were sent off in the final eighteen minutes of the game and the numerical advantage allowed Estudiantes to cross the line in comfortable fashion and into their fourth Club World Cup final.
Barcelona’s campaign started with a tougher challenge against Atlante CF just four days after they had won their local derby against Espanyol 1-0 in La Liga. The scorer in the derby, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, was among the starters for Barça while Lionel Messi, newly crowned European Footballer of the Year winner, was on the substitutes’ bench. However the Mexicans hadn’t come to the Middle East to make up the numbers and they stunned their more illustrious opponents early on thanks to a Guillermo Rojas goal after five minutes. The game ebbed and flowed for the next thirty minutes until Barcelona equalized thanks to a Sergio Busquets strike and the half finished 1-1. However the second half was to be dominated by the “Blaugrana” as Pep Guardiola’s 52nd minute substitution bringing on Lionel Messi for Yaya Toure, proved a masterstroke as the little Argentine made an immediate impact, rounding the keeper to make it 2-1 on 55 minutes. From here the “Blaugrana” began to take charge and they were further rewarded on 67 minutes when some good work by Andres Iniesta was turned home by Pedro from close range making the score 3-1. The remainder of the game was played almost as a Barcelona training session as Atlante failed to trouble the scoresheet any further and it was the giants from Catalonia who sealed their place in Sunday’s final, their third final since 1992, against Estudiantes de la Plata.
Love it or loathe it the FIFA Club World Cup is going to remain a staple part of the football calendar. To some observers it’s a chance to win a trophy and add more prestige to their club. To some others it’s a competition that turns up in the middle of a long hard season, getting in the way of domestic progress. Either way there will be seven teams in the United Arab Emirates from December 9-19 who will be giving everything to win the cup. Here is Stoppage Time’s guide to the participants:
FC BARCELONA – UEFA CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
FC Barcelona became European champions for the third time in May after beating Manchester United 2-0 in Rome. It is surprising that a massive club such as “Barça” has never won the FIFA Club World Cup or its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup. After twice being crowned European champions in 1992 and 2006 the Catalans have been defeated by Brazilian clubs in their attempts to be crowned the world’s best. In 1992 a São Paulo side inspired by Rai beat Barça 2-1 and then, three years ago, Internacional scored a late goal to deny Barcelona again. This time the ‘Blaugrana’ hope to make it third time lucky in this tournament and add the FIFA Club World Cup to the other five trophies they’ve won under their coach Pep Guardiola.
ESTUDIANTES DE LA PLATA – COPA LIBERTADORES WINNERS 2009
Estudiantes won their fourth Copa Libertadores with a 2-1 victory over two legs against Brazilian side Cruzeiro. The Argentinian side had a mixed record in the Intercontinental Cup during their heyday in the late 1960s and early 70s. Their solo victory came in 1968 after a 2-1 aggregate win over Manchester United (before 1979 the champions of Europe and South America played home and away matches to win the cup). Their next two efforts, however, ended in failure; in 1969 Milan won 4-2 on aggregate and in 1970 Feyenoord Rotterdam claimed their only world title with a 3-2 aggregate win. Can Juan Sebastián Verón emulate his father Juan Ramón’s achievements and become a world champion with his boyhood club?
ATLANTE CF – CONCACAF CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The Mexican side secured their second CONCACAF Champions League title after an all-Mexican affair with Cruz Azul ended up 2-0 after a two-legged final. Atlante’s other title win was back in 1983 when they defeated Surinam’s Robinhood FC (yes, really!) 6-1 over two legs. Atlante’s Club World Cup campaign will kick-off at the quarter-final stage against either Al Ahli or Auckland City, who meet in the first match of the competition.
POHANG STEELERS – AFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The three time Asian champions have not always dominated the domestic scene in South Korea but tend to thrive in Asian club competition. After previous successes in 1997 and 1998, Pohang Steelers won a third title this year by defeating Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia 2-1 in Tokyo’s National Stadium. Pohang will play against TP Mazembe at the quarter-final stage, the winner of which faces Estudiantes in the semi-finals.
TP MAZEMBE – CAF AFRICAN CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The Congolese side have been African champions on three occasions after their most recent success was decided on away goals against Nigerian team Heartlands FC. After the Nigerians won the first leg 2-1 at home, Mazembe won the second leg 1-0 to secure a passage to the Middle East. A meeting with Estudiantes de la Plata awaits if they can overcome Pohang Steelers in the quarter-final.
AUCKLAND CITY – OFC CHAMPIONS LEAGUE WINNERS 2009
The New Zealanders will be participating in the FIFA Club World Cup for a second time, after their previous appearance in 2006, following their 9-4 win over Soloman Islands’ club Koloale FC in the two-legged OFC Champions League final. In 2006 Auckland City lost in the opening play-off match to Al Ahly of Egypt 2-0. Can they avoid a repeat against a similarly named Al Ahli of UAE in this year’s tournament?
AL AHLI – UAE LEAGUE CHAMPIONS 2009
Representing the host country in this year’s tournament, Al Ahli have never been Asian champions but are the current UAE League champions after winning the title by one point from nearest challengers Al Jazira Club. Last season’s attempt at continental glory came to an end in the group phase of the AFC Champions League competition. Will meet Atlante CF in the quarter-final if they beat Auckland City in the play-off match.