Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Club World Cup low-down

Club World Cup low-down.
ADELAIDE UNITED (Australia)

The South Australians can consider themselves slightly fortunate to be taking part in the Club World Cup.

Like Iranian side Sepahan last year, Adelaide United finished as runner-up in the AFC Champions League after being thrashed 5-0 on aggregate by Gamba Osaka in the final. With FIFA dedicating just one spot to a team from the host nation, Japan's Gamba Osaka qualified as Asian champions, with a second Asian place going to Adelaide by default, meaning that newly crowned J. League champions Kashima Antlers missed out by virtue of Gamba's Asian success.

On the pitch Adelaide are a team in form, having thrashed Wellington Phoenix 6-1 in the A-League in their final match before the Club World Cup. As such they'll go into their play-off clash with Oceania champions Waitakere United full of confidence, with Adelaide desperate to book a rematch with Gamba Osaka in Toyota.

Key player

While many point to captain Travis Dodd and dynamic full-back Cassio as Adelaide's key players, the Club World Cup could provide a chance for Cristiano - once a free-scoring striker in the Dutch Eredivisie - to prove his value on the global stage.

Coach

Well-travelled former Australian international Aurelio Vidmar - who once enjoyed at stint in the J. League at Sanfrecce Hiroshima - is the man in charge of masterminding Adelaide's Club World Cup campaign.

Opening match

Adelaide take on Waitakere United at the National Stadium in Tokyo on December 11 in the opening match of the tournament.

AL-AHLY (Egypt)

Named the African Club of Century in 2000, Egyptian giants Al-Ahly are back for their third trip to the Club World Cup, and they will be hoping to go one better than their third place finish in 2006.

Al-Ahly qualified for this year's competition by beating Cameroon's Coton Sport 4-2 on aggregate in the recent CAF Champion's League final to be crowned African champions for a record sixth time. They will fancy their chances on what is undoubtedly the weaker side of the draw, and with Al-Ahly harbouring plenty of experience going into this continental showdown, they could be a darkhorse to go all the way to the final.

Domestically Al-Ahly have been struggling this season and they lie well off the pace in the Egyptian Premier League, although the Cairo giants have games in hand as they look to make ground on surprise league leaders Petrojet. Al-Ahly's most recent clash saw them play out an entertaining 3-3 draw with second-placed ENPPI in the league.

Key player

Flatteringly compared to former French great Zinedine Zidane, the skillful Mohamed Aboutrika is the fulcrum of the Al-Ahly side. A technically gifted playmaker with superb vision and the ability to set off on jinking runs, Aboutrika is also a goalscorer, and his goals have proved key in firing the Cairo giants to domestic and continental success in recent years.

Coach

Portugese coach Manuel Jose has overseen much of Al-Ahly's recent success, having signed on for his second spell at the club in 2003. He has won four CAF Champions League titles with the club, and has been honoured by the Egyptian government for his contributions to Egyptian football.

Opening match

Al-Ahly take on Mexican outfit Pachuca at the National Stadium in Tokyo on December 13.

GAMBA OSAKA (Japan)

Gamba cruised to the AFC Champions League title, beating defending Asian champions Urawa Reds in the semi-finals before thrashing Adelaide United in the final to lift their first ever continental crown.

The Osakans are not renowned as a heavyweight of Japanese football, but in recent years coach Akira Nishino has encouraged his team to play an attractive brand of attacking football. Success has gradually followed, with Gamba adding the Champions League crown to the J. League title they lifted in 2005 and the League Cup trophy they collected in 2007.

On the domestic front Gamba limped into an eighth place finish in the J. League this season, with their continental exploits clearly taking their toll on the exhausted outfit. Their fans will hope that Gamba still have the energy to muster a decent Club World Cup campaign, with a possible semi-final showdown against Manchester United in Yokohama looming on the horizon.

Key player

Midfielder Yasuhito Endo has come into his own in 2008 as undoubtedly one of the best players to grace the Asian stage. The slightly-built midfielder is the complete player, combining vision with a superb range of passing and incredible accuracy from set pieces. Having earned rave reviews for his performances this season, whether Gamba can hold on to their prize assest after the completion of the Club World Cup remains to be seen.

Coach

The wily Akira Nishino is the longest serving coach in J. League, and many have named the experienced tactician as a potential candidate for the post of Japan national team coach.

Opening match

Gamba take on the winner of the clash between Waitakere United and Adelaide United, with the Osakans making their debut in the tournament at Toyota Stadium on December 14.

LDU Quito (Ecuador)

Somewhat of an unknown quantity in this year's Club World Cup, LDU Quito qualified for the tournament by beating Brazilian giants Fluminense on penalties in a thrilling climax to the Copa Libertadores last year.

The club from the Ecuadorian capital have been hit hard by the loss of key players Joffre Guerrón to Spanish outfit Getafe and Enrique Vera to Mexican big-spenders America in the aftermath of that Copa Libertadores triumph, and unlike in previous intercontinental showdowns, the South Americans are by no means a certainty for this year's final.

Adding to the sense of uncertainty is the news that Argentine coach Edgardo Bauza has announced that he will step down after the completion of the Club World Cup, but with LDU Quito travelling well domestically, he will no doubt hope to go out a winner on the international stage as Los Albos set out to once again shock some of the giants of the world game.

Key player

Although captain and central midfielder Patricio Urrutia is a household name in Ecuador, it is young winger Luis Bolaños who could prove the game-breaker for the South Americans, where his pace and direct style of play could cause havoc for opposition defences.

Coach

Two-time Argentine international Edgardo Bauza has overseen one of the most successful periods in LDU Quito's history, but he has announced his intention to step down as coach after the Club World Cup.

Opening match

LDU Quito face off against the winner of the clash between Ah-Ahly and Pachuca, with the Ecuadorians making their tournament debut at Yokohama International Stadium on December 17.

MANCHESTER UNITED (England)

A club that needs no introduction, Manchester United qualified for the Club World Cup by beating Chelsea on penalties in last season's UEFA Champions League final in Moscow.

The English giants have been forced to postpone a Premier League clash with Wigan in order to accommodate their trip to Japan, but having picked up an Intercontinental Crown in 1999, coach Sir Alex Ferguson is keen to add another world title to his collection and he has named a strong squad to take part in this tournament.

United may face fixture congestion upon their return to domestic action, and the traditional slow-starters will hope that the Club World Cup does not derail their bid to lift another English crown. Nevertheless the intercontinental showdown could prove a boon to the American owners of the debt-laden outfit, with thousands of Japanese Manchester United fans likely to prove their allegiance by spending big on merchandise in the build-up to this tournament.

Key player

While it's difficult to look beyond the reigning World Player Of The Year Cristiano Ronaldo as United's key man, this could be a make-or-break tournament for Argentine striker Carlos Tevez. He has struggled to nail down a permanent place in the starting eleven at the English giants, and the man known as Carlitos could view this competition as a chance to showcase his wares to Sir Alex Ferguson - or otherwise put himself in the shop window.

Opening match

With the European and South American champions needing to win just two games to be crowned World champion, United kick off their Club World Cup at Yokohama International Stadium on December 18, where they will face either Waitakere United, Adelaide United or Gamba Osaka.

PACHUCA (Mexico)

Fans of Mexican club Pachuca will hope that the CONCACAF representatives have learned their lesson, after an arrogant Pachuca side turned in a lazy performance against Tunisian outsiders Etoile du Sahel at the Club World Cup last year, only to be dumped out of the competition by a late Etoile goal.

Pachuca will be eyeing off a semi-final spot this time around, although Los Tuzos endured a disappointing campaign in the Mexican Primera División, failing to reach the end-of-season play-offs. They'll be hoping to brush off their poor domestic form by turning in a good showing in Japan, with the pride of Mexican football fans having been rocked by some poor performances from the national team of late.

They may be one of Mexican football's newest powers, but Pachuca are quickly building themselves a reputation as one of Mexico's most successful teams, and they beat Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa in the now defunct CONCACAF Champions' Cup back in April to secure their trip to Japan.

Key player

Talismanic captain and goalkeeper Miguel Calero is the heart and soul of this Pachuca side, and the Colombian-born shot-stopper will be determined to lead by example as he takes his place between the posts in the Land Of The Rising Sun.

Coach

Enrique Meza is one of the most successful and respected coaches in Mexican football history, and after the disappointment of Pachuca's last Club World Cup campaign, he will no doubt have his team primed for a much better performance this time around.

Opening match

Pachuca will face off with Al-Ahly at the National Stadium in Tokyo on December 13 for the right to progress to a semi-final showdown with LDU Quito four days later.

WAITAKERE UNITED (New Zealand)

The underdogs of the tournament, New Zealand's Waitakere United are making their second appearance at the Club World Cup after they were beaten 3-1 by Iranian side Sepahan in the play-off for a quarter-final place in last year's competition.

The team from the western suburbs of Auckland go into this tournament as rank outsiders, having only been founded as recently as 2004, with Waitakere United playing their football on a semi-professional basis. Nevertheless there is some experience throughout the squad, with veteran English midfielder Neil Emblen once of Wolves, while Danny Hay played in the UEFA Champions League with Leeds United. Solomon Islands international Benjamin Totori is also considered one of the most exciting players in Oceanian football.

The Kiwis booked their place in Japan by beating Soloman side Kossa FC 6-3 on aggregate in the final of the OFC Champions League as Waitakere United picked up back-to-back Oceania titles in the process.

Key player

The experience and composure of former New Zealand international and captain Danny Hay in defence could prove crucial, with Hay a hard-nosed veteran who has played in both England and Australia, before deciding to wind down his career in his native New Zealand.

Coach

Waitakere are coach by the experienced Chris Milicich, who was also at the helm during the club's brief appearance at the Club World Cup last year, and who has guided his side to plenty of domestic and continental success of late.

Opening match

Just as they did last year, Waitakere United will face off against Asian runners-up in the form of Adelaide United for a place in the quarter-finals, with this trans-Tasman clash taking place at the National Stadium in Tokyo on December 11.

Copyright © Michael Tuckerman & Soccerphile.com

J.League News

No comments: