Reigning QNB Stars League champions Al Duhail will be aiming to make a memorable FIFA Club World Cup debut at the Education City Stadium on Thursday.
The Red Knights face African champions Al Ahly of Egypt, who will be making their sixth appearance in the tournament. But the Qatar side are determined, have self belief, and are focused on putting up their best on home turf.
Duhail will be sporting their traditional red jerseys while Al Ahly would be in grey and white.
Top clubs from five of football’s six continental confederations join the host nation representatives Al Duhail in the tournament, to be held at two FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 venues Ahmad bin Ali Stadium and Education City Stadium.
This is the second time Qatar is hosting the tournament, after 2019. It was scheduled to start on 1st February when Al Duhail were to play Oceania representative Auckland City FC, but the latter withdrew from the competition because of COVID-19 quarantine measures required by authorities in New Zealand. As a result, The Red Knights received a walkover into the second round with a 3-0 verdict.
South American champions Palmeiras of Brazil, European champions Bayern Munich of Germany, Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea and CONCACAF champions Tigres UANL of Mexico are the other participating clubs.
Al Duhail’s French coach Sabri Lamouchi said his team has been preparing their usual way and consider it as an honour to playing in the prestigious tournament.
“Our preparations have been normal. We consider it as an honor to participate in this wonderful tournament,” he said, but added, “Facing Al Ahly won’t be easy. We’ll have to take advantage of all our opportunities. For that, our ranks must be complete without any injuries. Al Ahly have experience in big tournaments, be it the Champions League or Club World Cup. On our side, we must believe in ourselves and stay focused.”
Al Duhail’s star striker Almoez Ali said, “We’re ready to compete. Certainly, everyone is eager to take the field, especially since we’re facing Egyptian club Al Ahly, who are the champions of Africa. The fact that we’re making our debut in this tournament gives us the motivation to present ourselves in the best way. All participating clubs will be at a high level, so we must also be at the same level. Against Al Ahly, we’ll do our best to win and reach the semifinals.”
Al Duhail’s new Kenyan striker Michael Olunga said, “Al Duhail are a special team and one of the biggest clubs in Qatar. The Club World Cup is a good opportunity for me and my teammates. It’s a challenge for everyone and we’re ready for it. We know the strengths of Al Ahly, they’re one of the strongest teams in Africa. We’ve to work hard, as the match won’t be easy.”
Al Duhail defender Bassam Al Rawi, said, “Participation means a lot to us because we’re representing the State of Qatar and donning the logo of Al Duhail club in a global championship and we have to present a good level and appear in an excellent way. We are fully ready for the tournament and all players are excited since it’s a big opportunity. We must play to our full potential.”
Al Duhail player Ismail Mohammed said, “The team is moving in the right direction even though we didn’t have luck on our side in many matches, but that does not mean we have been found wanting. I hope everyone will be in their best condition, physically, technically and psychologically.”
While Al Duhail are aware of the challenge that lies ahead, Al Ahly would be seeking a Club World Cup redemption.
They haven’t had the success not normally associated with the most successful club on the continent with 20 Confederation of African Football titles. That’s something the Cairo Red Devils take into a quarter-final against Al Duhail.
It will be the sixth appearance by Ahly in the annual competition and they desperately want to improve on having won just three matches of 12, losing the rest.
The low point came at the 2013 Club World Cup in Morocco as they were humiliated 5-1 by Monterrey of Mexico in the fifth-place playoff.
That was the third time Ahly finished sixth of seven clubs, with third and fourth places in the other appearances.
In 12 matches, Ahly could not even average a goal a game, scoring 11 while conceding 22, including five against Monterrey and four against another Mexican club, Pachuca.
Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane said they respect Al Duhail. “Happy to return to the Club World Cup and play at the 2022 World Cup stadiums, and we respect the Duhail team,” he said.
The coach had earlier remarked, “Duhail have good defenders like Moroccan Medhi Benatia, who once played for Juventus, and some sharp Brazilian forwards.
“A lot of our supporters are already talking about Bayern and their stars, but we can play them only if we get past Duhail, who are just as ambitious as us.”
Al Ahly goalkeeper, Mohamed El-Shenawy, said, “Any player would wish to be in the Club World Cup. We respect our opponents. Our goal is to make our fans happy.”
Given the presen of Kenyan players in the Al Duhail team, the Kenyan diaspora would add to the local support for them while Al Ahly would look forward to their Egyptian fan base in Qatar to root for them.
While Thursday’s winners will face Bayern Munich in the semis on Monday, the losers will play in the fifth-place game.
That play-off will be against the losers of the other quarter-final between North and Central American champions UANL of Mexico and Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea.
5pm: Tigers UANL vs Ulsan Hyundai (At Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium)
8.30pm: Al Duhail vs Al Ahly
(At Education City Stadium)
By Vinay Nayudu
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