Preview: Ahly face challenging game with Ittihad in bid for higher FIFA Club World Cup ranking

Mahmoud Elassal , Thursday 14 Dec 2023

Egyptian powerhouse Ahly are gearing up for a critical clash against hosts Ittihad Jeddah on Friday, eyeing an improved finish in the FIFA Club World Cup.



Despite their rich tournament history with three previous third-place finishes, the Red Devils are grappling with a recent dip in form, making their pursuit of a higher standing seem daunting in their ninth appearance.

Ahly's recent performance has been less than stellar, securing only one victory in their last five matches.

A win against Ghana's Medeama in the CAF Champions League was overshadowed by three consecutive draws in the Egyptian Premier League against Gouna and Smouha, along with stalemates against Tanzania's Young Africans and Algeria's CR Belouizdad in the African Champions League.

"We are not in our best performance, but we will try our best to get the team back on track," a disappointed Ahly's Swiss coach Marcel Koller said.  

Koller, under scrutiny for the Reds' poor results, highlighted that the lack of imagination by the attackers poses a significant challenge.

Ahly, with an illustrious history as the second-most frequent participant in the Club World Cup, trails behind Auckland City.

Ahly seek  new achievement 

By playing as many as 22 matches in the last eight appearances at the FIFA Club World Cup, the African and Egyptian champions stand out for playing the most matches in the tournament.   

Ahly clinched the bronze medal three times (2006, 2020, and 2021) and aim to reach the semi-finals to match TP Mazembe and Raja's feat.

Hussein El-Shahat, Ahly's midfielder, has notably played the highest number of matches in the tournament, boasting 12 appearances.

“The level of competition at the Club World Cup is quite high, but we are determined to do our best to defend the great name of our club and Egyptian football," Ahly’s goalkeeper Mohamed El-Shennawi said, emphasizing the team's determination.

Ittihad counts on newly signed stars

Saudi Professional League champions Ittihad Jeddah are making their second Club World Cup appearance, having finished fourth in the 2005 edition when they defeated the same opponents, Ahly, 1-0 in the quarterfinals.

They secured a convincing 3-0 win over Auckland City of New Zealand, with star signings like Karim Benzema from Real Madrid, Fabinho from Liverpool, N'Golo Kante from Chelsea, and Luiz Felipe from Real Betis boosting their squad.

"We will see what will happen in the coming game as it will be difficult, as every team in the tournament wants to win the title," Benzema said after the victory over Auckland City.

Brazilian star Fabinho echoed similar sentiments, acknowledging the challenge posed by experienced Ahly.

“We are preparing well for the game against Ahly as we know well that we will face a big team as they used to participate in the tournament,” Fabinho told Saudi newspaper Arriyadiyah ahead of the game.

“I expect a tough game between the two teams,” he added.

The quarterfinals also feature a clash on Friday between Japan's Urawa Reds and Mexican Club Leon.

UEFA Champions League winners Manchester City and Copa Libertadores champions Fluminense FC will enter the competition from the semi-finals.

The FIFA Club World Cup winner will receive a substantial prize of $5 million, with the runner-up receiving $4 million.

The third-place finisher will secure $2.5 million, emphasizing the stakes and prestige accompanying this tournament, which has been an annual fixture since 2005.

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