ABU DHABI: The FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 is here and Abu Dhabi and Al Ain are all set to host eight thrilling matches from Dec. 12-22 , between seven teams comprising various club champions from six FIFA confederations and the all-conquering home champions.
Collectively, the seven teams have won 309 major trophies including national league and cup titles, continental competitions, and past editions of the FIFA Club World Cup and its predecessor, the Intercontinental Cup.
Representing Oceania, New Zealand’s Team Wellington FC wrote a new chapter in their football history by winning the Oceania Football Confederation (OFC) Champions League for the first time in May. ‘Team Welly’ became the tournament’s second confirmed qualifier when they defeated Fijian champions Lautoka FC 10-3 on aggregate in a two-legged final.
Coached by Englishman José Manuel Figueira, the semi-professional team will contest an opening qualifier against Al-Ain, the reigning Arabian Gulf League (AGL) champions, at the UAE side’s Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday. Nicknamed “The Boss,” Al-Ain FC qualified for the tournament following their own historic season in 2017/18, where they completed a domestic UAE President’s Cup and AGL double for the first time in their history. Al Ain FC are marking their 50th anniversary celebrations this year.
The winner of the Al-Ain vs Team Wellington qualifier will progress to the second round to face Espérance Sportive de Tunis, the new club champions of Africa. The Tunisian side qualified for the tournament with a 4-3 aggregate win over Egyptian giants Al-Ahly SC in November’s two-legged CAF Champions League final.
In the other second-round clash, Asia meets North America as AFC champions Kashima Antlers from Japan face Mexico’s CD Guadalajara, who become the first continental champion to qualify for the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 following a dramatic 4-2 penalty shoot-out win over Toronto FC in the North and Central American and the Caribbean (CONCACAF) Champions League in April.
Both second-round games will take place at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Saturday, with Kashima Antlers facing CD Guadalajara and Espérance Sportive de Tunis facing either Al-Ain or Team Wellington.
The action stays in Al-Ain with two more games on Tuesday Dec.18. The losing sides from the second round will contest a fifth-place playoff, before Kashima Antlers or CD Guadalajara face Argentinian side Club Atlético River Plate in the tournament’s first semifinal.
River Plate won the right to represent South America’s CONMEBOL confederation and become the tournament’s final confirmed qualifier after defeating domestic rivals Boca Juniors in the Copa Libertadores final last weekend.
From there, one of Espérance Sportive de Tunis, Al-Ain FC or Team Wellington will face history-making UEFA Champions League winners, Real Madrid, in the second semifinal on Wednesday Dec. 19 at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City Stadium. The Spanish club beat English Premier League side Liverpool 3-1 in Kiev in May to become the first team to win three consecutive editions of Europe’s premier club tournament.
The UAE capital stadium will also host the tournament’s two remaining games, a third-and-fourth playoff and the final itself, at 17.30 and 20.30 UAE time, respectively, on Saturday Dec. 22.
“Our magnificent seven are confirmed and the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 is now here. The teams are ready, the fans are ready, and Abu Dhabi, Al Ain and the UAE are ready,” said His Excellency Aref Hamed Al Awani, Tournament Director, FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 Local Organizing Committee.