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

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.

Seeds tumble in Miami as Roger Federer remains on course for Novak Djokovic final

Updated 19 min 57 sec ago

Seeds tumble in Miami as Roger Federer remains on course for Novak Djokovic final

LONDON: It was a weekend of shocks in both the men’s and women’s tournament at the Miami Open as world No. 1 Naomi Osaka was beaten, Serena Williams was forced to withdraw and Alexander Zverev fell to wildcard David Ferrer.
Elsewhere, Roger Federer kept the prospect of a matchup in the final with Novak Djokovic with a win over Radu Albot.
The Miami Open might have moved to a brand new location for this year, but Miami Gardens is already building a reputation as a seeds’ graveyard.
Williams withdrew on Saturday, blaming a previously undisclosed left knee injury. And less than two hours later, top seed Osaka lost to Hsieh Su-Wei of Taiwan, 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-3.
Osaka’s shock exit equaled the record for the earliest ever in Miami by a top-seeded woman and, depending on results in the rest of the tournament, could see her lose her top spot in the world rankings.
“I feel like I’ve dealt with the stress of people asking me do I have pressure because I have the No. 1 next to my name,” Osaka said. “I thought I was doing fine with that, but I guess I’m not.”
She smiled when reminded it was the first time in 64 matches she lost after winning the first set.
“I know, it’s depressing,” she said. “I was thinking about it right after I lost.”
Osaka, 21, has won the past two Grand Slam tournaments.
Meanwhile, Williams’ withdrawal was surprising, having shown no signs of injury a day earlier while winning her opening match against Rebecca Peterson. Williams did not mention any injury problems during a news conference after the match, and the WTA had no information regarding when she was hurt.
Williams’ victory on Friday was her first at the Hard Rock Stadium, the Miami Open’s new center court. The tournament moved this year from Key Biscayne, where Williams has previously won eight titles.
“I am disappointed to withdraw,” she said in a statement. “It was an amazing experience to play at Hard Rock Stadium this year, and I would like to thank the Miami Open for putting on an amazing event. I hope to be back next year to play at this one-of-a-kind tournament in front of the incredible fans here in Miami.”
Williams, 37, still hasn’t won a tournament since the 2017 Australian Open, before she took a break of more than a year to become a mother. She has played only eight matches this year.
Williams’ stay at the Miami Open was also brief last year, when she lost in the first round to Osaka. Friday’s match was Williams’ first since she retired from Indian Wells two weeks ago because of a viral illness.
Meanwhile, Roger Federer briefly seemed headed for the exit but instead advanced to the third round by rallying past qualifier Radu Albot 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.
“Radu put me through the ringer,” Federer said.
Federer, a three-time champion, lost serve only once — in the first game — but was on the ropes until he swept the final three games, to the relief of an enthusiastic stadium crowd.
“It was a great atmosphere,” Federer said. “It was electric. I think that’s why I played so well at the end.
“I’m happy I got it out of the way. I’m happy I was able to find a way tonight,” the 23-time Grand Slam winner said.
But there was no joy for second seed Alexander Zverev, who double-faulted 12 times on his way to losing against Ferrer, 2-6, 7-5, 6-3.
Ferrer was delighted with taking the scalp of the German.
“It means a lot, it’s a special day because it’s the last year of professional tennis for me. Winning these type of matches against a top 10 player like Sascha is a gift. I’m very happy and I’m trying to enjoy every point and every moment.
“My motivation is playing at a high level and be competitive. It’s my goal. I can’t play at my best level anymore, but I want to have good energy and play my best in every match,” he said.