- Khalifa Mubarak earns first Al Jazira start against Real Madrid
- 19-year-old was the youngest player on the pitch against Los Blancos
- Al Jazira to face Pachuca in match for third place
The night of Wednesday 13 December 2017 was no ordinary one for young Al Jazira midfielder Khalifa Mubarak. When the 19-year-old ran on to the Zayed Sports City pitch to take on Spanish giants and two-time FIFA Club World Cup winners’ Real Madrid, he was enjoying his first start for the UAE league champions.
Facing the champions of Europe for the last two seasons would be a tough assignment for any player, let alone one still registered with the UAE Football Association as an amateur, and in a Club World Cup semi-final.
And while Al Jazira's dream of reaching the final was eventually dashed, Mubarak was extremely happy at the end of the game, when he spoke to FIFA.com about his overwhelming feelings after playing against his favourite international team. "I can't describe how I felt when I found out I'd be playing in that game, especially knowing that I'd be the youngest player on the pitch, facing Europe's megastars. That was a huge boost to my confidence."
The player who faced Luka Modric, the winner of the Alibaba Cloud Match Award, in the midfield added: "I prepared for this game like for any other, and my team-mates gave me some extra assurances. We faced the defending world champions, but we weren't under any pressure, as the coach reminded us. This helped me play with vigour and perform well."
Asked how he felt facing so many of the international stars he saw as his role models, Mubarak, who played for 60 minutes before being replaced by Eissa Mohamed, another 19-year old, said: "It was my dream to play against Europe's stars. When I took to the pitch and saw them all around me, I couldn’t believe it. It felt like a dream."
At the press conference after the game, Al Jazira Dutch coach Henk ten Cate discussed his decision to utilise young players. “I told them, ‘Just have fun. It is a rare opportunity that you might not get again, so just enjoy yourselves and do your best’.”
*Back to school *Mubarak never imagined his side would go so far at UAE 2017, having originally just taken a few days off from his university. As it turns out, he will need to stay until the tournament concludes this Saturday, when Al Jazira go up against Mexico's Pachuca for third place.
"My university gave me a permission to play with my club in this tournament," said the teenager, who, along with a number of his team-mates, came through the Al Jazira Academy. "Now we still have a game to play. I hope we can give another great performance and seal third place."
As he prepared to leave the Zayed Sports City Stadium last night, Mubarak said with a laugh: "When the tournament ends, I’ll return to university for another stern test – my exams."
However difficult they might be, they will surely not be any harder than the one posed by Real Madrid on an unforgettable Wednesday night in Abu Dhabi.