Ten Cate gets perfect birthday gift
Abu Dhabi: Al Jazira head coach Henk ten Cate was in a jubilant mood as he reflected on a night when his side defeated Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds to become the first Emirati team to reach the semi-final of the FIFA Club World Cup.
The Dutchman celebrated his 63rd birthday with the 1-0 win at Zayed Sports City Stadium, a victory which set Al Jazira up for a clash against European champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals. And he described it as the best birthday gift he had ever received.
“This is one of our best moments. I won the league and the President Cup with Al Jazira. Today, we did not win any titles, but we won the love of all football fans in the UAE,” said ten Cate.
“The celebration at the final whistle was special because it was my birthday. The players threw me in the air, which I usually don’t like, but I enjoyed it this time. This win was the best birthday gift ever.”
Ten Cate joined Al Jazira two years ago, at a time when the club was struggling at the bottom end of the league table. But since his arrival at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium, the Dutchman has transformed the club’s fortunes, leading them to win the Pro League title last season.
The Al Jazira boss reflected back on his journey with the team ahead of what could be the biggest match in the club’s history.
“There is no secret to our success. This is a team that was formed two years ago when I arrived here. Back then we decided to wave goodbye to some players who were not fighting for the team colours,” explained the former winger.
“We welcomed new players from the academy and this became part of our identity; we may not have the best players, but we have the best team. We play with a big heart and we are happy with it.”
Ten Cate admitted his side may be tempted by the prospect of going far in the 2018 AFC Champions League, which he believes is more difficult than the FIFA Club World Cup.
“The AFC Champions League is a different competition. Here, we had the home advantage, but in the Champions League you have to play home and away and progress from the group stage which is more difficult than winning one match to qualify,
“The AFC Champions League starts in February, so there is still a long way to go and we have to focus on the league first in this period.”
Ali Mabkhout’s goal was the difference as Al Jazira secured a famous victory on Saturday, and ten Cate was full of praise for his striker.
“He is so good that he always knows the right moment to move and free himself from defenders, find the right position and score.”