Centre forward Kenwyne Jones insists the high drama which saw Al Jazira secure entry into the 2016 AFC Champions League made the triumph all the sweeter.
Tuesday’s undulating play-off at home to Qatari favourites Al Sadd was decided 5-4 in a shootout after a 2-2 draw at the end of normal time was only guaranteed by a last-gasp penalty save from UAE No1 Ali Khaseif to deny Khalfan Ibrahim.
“It was a one-off game and we knew we had to put everything into it,” said Cardiff City loanee Jones.
“Of course, we would have liked to finish it in the 90 minutes – but who said doing it easy is ever that sweet?
“Congratulations to everyone in the club and the fans of Al Jazira.
“It had exactly what every exciting game should have. It had thrills and spills, almost a good ending then a twist before the fairytale in which we went through.
“There were special moments in the penalty shootout through our goalkeeper and captain (Khaseif). Congratulations to him.
“I hope this pushes us on for the rest of the season.”
The Pride of Abu Dhabi forgot their painful domestic form to go through during a heart-racing evening. Right-back Khalid Sabeal gifted Sadd’s Hamza Senhadji the opener, prior to Jones’ headed leveller just before the break.
UAE striker Ali Mabkhout’s fine free-kick appeared to be sending the hosts through, only for Senhadji to strike late to complete his brace and Ibrahim to miss from 12 yards.
The shootout saw ex-Barcelona and Spain midfielder Xavi belie his experience as one of the most-decorated players in history to balloon over the opener for Sadd, with both sides making further misses before the visitors’ two-goal hero Senhadji smashed decisively against the bar.
Jazira fell at the same stage last year to Uzbekistan’s Bunyodkor.
Now, they head into Group C alongside Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Iran’s Tractor Sazi and Uzbekistan’s Pakhtakor and Jones is looking forward to the challenge.
He said: “It is an exciting time. The AFC Champions League is another competition, maybe it might be a bit more strategic. It is home and away, you play for points and at home you try to win your games. It is going to be a fantastic journey. I think there are a lot of young players and new players in the squad for this competition. We are just going to work hard and try to enjoy it.”
Jones captains Trinidad and Tobago, featured in the 2006 World Cup for his nation and has battled Premier League defences at Southampton, Sunderland, Stoke City and Cardiff. He equates the engrossing one-off contest favourably to those experiences when asked to compare them.
“This game was right up there as it got us into the AFC Champions League,” said the 31-year-old. “It is just as important. This is a new place for me and I am happy to be part of the history we are making this year. Long may that continue.”