JEDDAH: Al-Ittihad head coach Marcelo Gallardo said his players are fully prepared for their FIFA Club World Cup opener on Tuesday and looking forward to putting on a show for the home fans in Saudi Arabia.
“Our goal is to perform at our best and try to win the game to keep up our good run through the next round,” Gallardo said ahead of their match against Auckland city of New Zealand. “It is not an easy game and we do really respect Auckland City but we’re confident we can do a good job.”
Speaking about the benefit of home advantage in the game, the winners of which will progress to play Egyptian side Al-Ahly in the second round on Friday, he added: “Our fans will certainly help, no doubt. Our fans are our strength; we have said that we are strong at home and, in particular in such matches, hope we can qualify to the next round because I believe tomorrow’s match is very critical.”
Al-Ittihad captain Karim Benzema, who previously played in the competition during his time with Real Madrid, said he and his teammates look forward to giving the Saudi fans something to cheer about.
“Our players are very anxious to play and they know exactly how important this match is,” he said.
“My previous experience is totally different from this one and I hope I can help my players in this important match. We know it will not be easy but we have to have the mentality that we can win this match.”
Auckland’s head coach, Albert Riera, said his side will face a tough challenge against the reigning Saudi champions but is confident they are capable of stepping up when it matters.
“For sure we’re the underdogs, we’re aware of that, and being the underdog is an advantage but all of the work that we’ve put in, all the effort that every player is putting into every training session is not so that we go there and don’t compete and not try to win,” he said.
“We’re here to make Auckland City fans proud, to make New Zealand proud and to try and compete as much as we can.”
This year’s tournament is the 20th FIFA Club World Cup and marks Auckland City’s 11th appearance in the competition. Saudi Arabia is hosting the event for the first time.