Egypt and Africa’s most successful club Ahly are into their eighth FIFA Club World Cup following two consecutive third place finishes and three overall.
Ahly have the second highest number of appearances in the tournament. Only Auckland City of New Zealand have more.
Coincidence or not, the two were scheduled to meet on Wednesday 1 February in the first round of this year’s tournament being hosted in Morocco. Al-Ahram Weekly went to print before the game was played.
In their only previous encounter in the tournament, Ahly beat Auckland 2-0 in 2006.
An almost constant presence in this tournament is the common feature of the two clubs. The Cairo giants hold the record for most Club World Cup matches played, 18. Auckland City, winners of the OFC Champions League 2022 for a record 10th time in 2022, have more Club World Cup appearances than any other club.
But neither club has ever won the Club World Cup or reached the final. Auckland’s best showing in the tournament was finishing third in 2014. Ahly ended in third three times but could only gain an invitation to the tournament in Morocco after finishing runners-up in the CAF Champions League, following a 2-0 loss to Wydad Casablanca in the final.
The invite came because Wydad are in the tournament not just representing Africa but because they are also the hosts, leaving an African spot open. Ahly filled the gap as Champions League runners-up.
Led by first-year Swiss coach Marcel Koller, Ahly are one of the most decorated clubs in world football, with 42 Egyptian Premier League titles, 37 Egypt Cups and 12 Egyptian Super Cups as well as 10 CAF Champions League titles.
But this is the first time Ahly start from the bottom of the barrel in this tournament. They have a way to go if they want to emulate TP Mazembe of DR Congo and Al-Ein of the United Arab Emirates, the only African and Arab countries respectively to have reached the finals. The two lost the chance for the title.
Should Ahly defeat Auckland, they will meet the Seattle Sounders who have a bye and who are making history as the first American team in the tournament.
One of three teams will meet Spanish champions Real Madrid in the semi-finals. Real have won the trophy a record four times.
Other members of the seven-team tournament are Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia, winners of the 2021 AFC Champions League. They will be the first AFC representatives to feature in three editions of the FIFA Club World Cup.
Flamengo of Brazil are winners of the 2022 CONMEBOL Libertadores.
As in previous editions, if there is a draw after regulation time, extra time and penalties (if necessary) will be used to determine a winner except for the third-place match, which will skip extra time and go straight to penalties.
The Club World Cup was staged in Morocco in 2013 and again in 2014, with Chelsea winning the trophy in February.
This year, Rabat and Tangier are the host cities in Morocco, rewarded host for becoming the first Arab and African country to reach the semi-finals of a World Cup, which they did in Qatar two months ago.
Besides Morocco the tournament has been hosted by Japan, the UAE, and Qatar.
Meantime, FIFA will stage an expanded Club World Cup featuring 32 teams from June 2025, similar to the World Cup for national teams. Also like the World Cup for countries, the club version will be held during the summer and every four years.
It’s not clear how the 32 spots would be allocated to each region and what the qualifying format would look like be. But FIFA President Gianni Infantino said the intention is to have “the best teams in the world”.
What is known is that the new expanded tournament is set to replace the FIFA Confederations Cup which was used as a trial run for the World Cup host country the year before the tournament. The US is reportedly a potential host for the 2025 FIFA Club World Cup, one year prior to the 2026 World Cup which will be jointly hosted by the US, Canada, and Mexico.
* A version of this article appears in print in the 2 February, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly