The 'magnificent seven's' route to the FIFA Club World Cup final

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Real Madrid lifted the sought-after trophy in Abu Dhabi last year. (AFP)
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Updated 12 December 2018
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The 'magnificent seven's' route to the FIFA Club World Cup final

  • Two Arab teams set to take on the world's best in the UAE.
  • The seven teams have won 309 major trophies between them.

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.


NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and Rams one game away from glory

Updated 19 January 2019
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NFL PLAYOFF PREVIEW: Patriots, Chiefs, Saints and Rams one game away from glory

LONDON: And then there were just four.

The NFL’s conference championship games kick off on Sunday, with the Patriots and Chiefs contesting the AFC side of the draw, the Saints and Rams facing off in the NFC. With just one game standing between the four sides and a shot at Super Bowl glory, Arab News examines why each team can make it to Atlanta for the Feb. 3 showdown.

AFC: KANSAS CITY CHIEFS vs NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Put simply, the Chiefs can win their match-up with the Patriots — and probably the whole thing — because of Patrick Mahomes. If he performs at the scintillating levels he has produced since the very first week, New England will find him too hot to handle.

Mahomes’ first season as a starter has been nothing short of miraculous, it was the second-best single season by a quarterback in NFL history. In a full 16-game season, he managed to complete 66 percent of his passes for 5,097 yards, 50 touchdowns, with a 113.8 passer rating. He is just the second quarterback in NFL history to throw for at least 50 touchdowns and 5,000 yards in a single season, after Peyton Manning’s heroics in 2013.

And Mahomes’ efforts were needed for this Chiefs outfit who managed a 12-4 record in the regular season, despite their defense allowing a whopping 26.3 points per game. The defensive line could be the Chiefs’ downfall, but given the brilliance of Mahomes this season, fans at the Arrowhead could well be celebrating a first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.

Meanwhile, there will come a time when preview pieces such as these will have to stop featuring Bill Belichick and Tom Brady’s Patriots. But, despite not being at their metronomic best, that time is not now. The New England juggernaut just keeps rolling on. A win next month in the Big Game would be the Patriots’ sixth title since 2001, and the secret to their success in winning the previous five has been coach Belichick and quarterback Brady’s ability to outsmart any opponent. If the legendary duo can come up with a way to do the same to Andy Reid’s Chiefs, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who thought the Patriots would not go all the way.

In the final weeks of the regular season and first rounds of the playoffs, the Patriots also improved their running game immeasurably. It all clicked into place against the Chargers in the divisional game where Sony Michel looked unstoppable. Couple this with the traditionally blistering pass game of Brady-Gronkowski-Edelman, and that air of invincibility so associated with the Patriots will once again shroud the greatest team of the 21st century.

NFC: NEW ORLEANS SAINTS vs LOS ANGELES RAMS


Outside of Missouri, Boston and California, New Orleans are most people’s pick for Super Bowl glory this year. And aside from the emotional attachment many NFL fans have to the Saints, their performances on the field this year would warrant a second title in a decade. They will need to come out of blocks early, though, as their slow starts in the regular season threatened to lose them games they should have won easily. The Rams have a fantastic offensive line, and if the Saints are asleep in the opening stages, they could find themselves two scores behind in the blink of an eye.

Coach Sean Payton is renowned for taking risks — think the fake punt against Philadelphia in the division game last week — and always seems more comfortable calling plays when ahead. And while usually ruthless at killing games off, it was the Rams who almost pulled off a remarkable comeback in the Superdome earlier this year. The Saints will need that ruthless streak if they are to win it all.

It has been a breathtaking turnaround for the Rams since they appointed head coach Sean McVay— the youngest coach in modern NFL history — in 2017. After years of mediocrity in St. Louis and a poor start after returning to LA, McVay has revolutionized this franchise, which now find themselves one game away from the Super Bowl.

In Jared Goff, too, they have a superstar quarterback — protecting him from the workmanlike defense of the Saints will be key if the Rams are to upset the apple cart and overcome New Orleans. If Goff stays safe in the pocket and the Rams utilize a mixed offensive game, the Rams faithful could be traipsing east for the big one next month, knowing their team has beaten one of the best on the way to a fairytale ending to the season.