‘We don’t have best play­ers but best team’

All praise from Ten Cate for cap­i­tal side

The National - News - Sport - - FOOTBALL - John McAu­ley

HATTA // Henk ten Cate praised Al Jazira’s team­work as key to win­ning the Ara­bian Gulf League, as the club’s “dream fi­nally came true” last night.

The cap­i­tal side, cham­pi­ons once pre­vi­ously, de­feated Hatta 5-0 at Ham­dan bin Rashid Sta­dium to seal a first UAE cham­pi­onship in six years with two games to spare. Ali Mabkhout was the stand­out, scor­ing three times.

The re­sult means sec­ond-placed Al Ahli, last sea­son’s cham­pi­ons, can­not catch Jazira, who now pro­vi­sion­ally qual­ify for this year’s Fifa Club World Cup that takes place in the UAE in De­cem­ber.

For Ten Cate, it marks a su­perb 16 months in the job. The Dutch­man, who this week turned down an of­fer to man­age the Nether­lands, also guided Jazira last May to the Pres­i­dent’s Cup crown. “I’m a happy man,” Ten Cate said. “Our dream came true, fi­nally. If you be­lieve in some­thing you can achieve it. We don’t have the best play­ers – we know this – but for sure we have the best team. .

“If you score 67 goals, and con­cede only 15 – this is our 14th clean sheet – it’s some­thing spe­cial. It’s re­ally some­thing spe­cial.

“The sea­son is not over yet. We still have two games to go and the team said they want to break the all-time record in points and vic­to­ries. Not one team be­fore has won 22 games, and this is now what they’re aim­ing for: to write his­tory, and real his­tory.

“If you look at the amount of goals we scored, and con­ceded, we’re top in both. So there is only one team who de­serve the cham­pi­onship this year. And that is us.”

Jazira’s march to the ti­tle breaks the stran­gle­hold on the top-flight tro­phy shared by Ahli and Al Ain.

In the past five sea­sons, dat­ing back to Jazira’s only other UAE cham­pi­onship, only those two clubs have won the ti­tle.

“It’s the sec­ond in the his­tory of the club, so it means some­thing re­ally spe­cial to the club and to the fans,” Ten Cate said. “If you’re al­ways trail­ing two other teams and now you are on top your­self, it gives great sat­is­fac­tion – es­pe­cially be­cause of the work they did.

“When I started here, the group made a fan­tas­tic change where they re­alised if the group do it to­gether, then we could win some­thing, start­ing with the Pres­i­dent’s Cup last year.

“But you have to strongly be­lieve in this, you have to work your socks off, you have to be ded­i­cated to the things you do. They grew into such a strong force and their only fo­cus was to win the league, which they have done. They should be ex­tremely proud.”

Jazira will be pleased with how they clinched the league crown.

Mabkhout opened the scor­ing against Hatta on 38 min­utes, head­ing home Mbark Bous­so­ufa’s cross. Home for­ward Sa­muel Gon­claves then dou­bled the vis­i­tors’ ad­van­tage six min­utes after half time, when he glanced Leonardo’s cor­ner into his own net be­fore Mabkhout got his sec­ond not long after the hour.

Ail­ton Almeida added a fourth with four min­utes re­main­ing, leav­ing Mabkhout to round off the night and com­plete his hat­trick from the penalty spot after a foul on Khal­fan Mubarak. It took Mabkhout to 31 goals for the league sea­son, lift­ing him seven clear of Al Wasl’s Fabio de Lima at the top of the scor­ing charts and ex­tend­ing his record for an Emi­rati in the pro­fes­sional era. “We have one phe­nom­e­non – Ali Mabkhout,” Ten Cate said. “He is spe­cial. Man, he is spe­cial. I feel sorry for him that he’s not so ap­pre­ci­ated in this coun­try. But I work with him ev­ery day and the guy has ab­so­lute spe­cial qual­i­ties.

“It’s not easy to score so many goals. He’s a lo­cal player now with 31 goals. Thirty-one in 23 matches. We’re very happy with him.

“Of course, the team is do­ing a lot of things for him, but he pays the team back with his goals and his skills.”

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