Thursday 07 December 2017, 01:35

Almunia's guidance helps Al Jazira star shine brightest

  • Ali Khaseif pulled off seven saves to help Al Jazira edge Auckland City

  • The UAE international was named the Alibaba Cloud Match Award Winner

  • Khaseif hailed the influence of Jazira goalkeeper coach Manuel Almunia

In modern football, the goalkeeper plays a fundamental role, one that extends well beyond his penalty area. Al Jazira custodian and captain Ali Khaseif proved this at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday by leading by example during the Emirati champions’ victory over Auckland City in the opening match of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2017.

Although Brazilian forward Romarinho powered home the only goal of the game in impressive fashion, it was Khaseif who attracted most of the post-match plaudits, making seven fine saves as his side avoided elimination. Furthermore, a vocal Khaseif was also constantly doling out defensive pointers to his team-mates.

Khaseif is accustomed to taking part in important encounters, having competed in several FIFA World Cup™ qualifiers with United Arab Emirates. In addition, the Abu Dhabi native starred in two matches at the 2012 Men’s Olympic Football Tournament. Last year, he was instrumental in Al Jazira being crowned champions of the UAE, and by extension, qualifying for the current edition of the Club World Cup.

(Ali Khaseif, Al Jazira’s captain and goalkeeper, receives the FIFA award for Player of the Match)

Mutual acclaim After celebrating in the changing rooms, the man named Player of the Match explained to how he stopped goal-bound efforts from Auckland’s Cameron Howieson and Ryan De Vries in the second period.

“I managed that with the help of god and our goalkeeper coach, Manuel Almunia,” said Khaseif. “He gives me so much encouragement at training. And my team-mates’ performances are also a source of motivation.”

Former Arsenal No1 Almunia was extremely satisfied with his protégé’s display: “Ali was exceptional and showed remarkable confidence. He played really well. This competition is the perfect fit for him, because he’s a top ’keeper, as he proved today.”

Did you know?

  • Khaseif began as a defender aged 11 at second division club Al Fujairah

  • Signed for Al Jazira in 2005 becoming first-choice goalkeeper in 2010/11

  • Before each match, Khaseif prays inside his goal 

Drawing on past experiences As well as Almunia’s positive influence, Khaseif can also draw on the experience he has built up representing UAE in major international fixtures. That acumen has given him the necessary maturity to instil confidence in his team-mates.

“I tried to pass on my experience to the younger players during the match, as a lot of them are performing at this level for the first time,” said the 30-year-old shot-stopper.

After defeating Auckland City, Khaseif’s skills will next be put to the test against the Asian champions, Urawa Red Diamonds, at Zayed Sports City Stadium on Saturday.

“There are no minnows in this tournament, and we saw what Urawa are capable of in the Asian Champions League,” said Khaseif. “Now that we’ve conquered our fears, we must represent Emirati football with honour.”