The FIFA Club World Cup is about to take place in Abu Dhabi between 9th and 19th December. The competition sees the champions of the six continental federations compete for the title and the honour to wear the FIFA Club World Badge until the next Championship.
This will bring back memories of my visit in 2007 when U. A. E. won the Gulf Cup. The games will be played at two stadiums Zayed Sports City(49,500) and the stylish Mohammed Bin Zayed Stadium (42,056), which has added an extra tier to three sides since my last visit.
One of FIFA's improvements to the format of the competition has been the introduction of a team from the host country competing. This has livened affairs and helped generate more interest amongst the locals.
This time the honour goes to Al Ahli (Which simply means "national' in Arabic) who won the U.A.E. 2008-9 league title. However this season they currently lie 6th in the 12 team league without a win at home. They did manage to win their last league game on Friday 3-0 at bottom club Ajman.
Al Ahli come from neighbouring Dubai. I am not sure what the Abu Dhabi residents will make of that. It feels like the equivalent of playing the tournament in the UK at Old Trafford with Liverpool representing. Now how would that go down.
Al Ahli, you may have heard of as they were the club involved in the friendly brawl with Chelsea in August this year, accused of karate kicks, knee-high tackles hair pulling out and eye gouging.
I believe they were named after the Egyptian champions who also hold the record for the most appearances in the World Club Cup. Their appearance will mean that "National " have appeared in 4 of the six competitions.
Their opposition in a play off game for the right to meet the CONCACAF Champions in the Quarter Final will be Auckland City Oceania Champion League holders who beat Koloale FC from the Solomon Islands 9-4 on aggregate. The second leg was played in Auckland in front of 1,250 spectators.
The second and only other quarter final! (Remember FIFA make the rules) will be between Tout Puissant Mazembe Englebert and Pohang Steelers.
Tout Puissant Mazembe Englebert (Democratic Republic of Congo), what a name. Upon first hearing the name I started on my own Nick Hornby type list of football teams with peoples names. Immediate thoughts for me begin with the likes obviously of Ross County (Ironically the only team here I haven't seen play). Then of course you have Chelsea, Everton, Crewe Alexandra (possibly named after a pub), then there are obvious European teams Paris St Germain, AC Milan, Siena and Carl Zeiss Jena. From South America River Plate and finally AS Nancy Lorraine which takes the number one spot for managing two names.
Intrigued by the name Englebert I decided a bit of research was required. I found that they weren't happy with their original name given to them by the Benedictine monks that founded the club in 1939 - Holy Team Georges. The name lasted for only five years and they were then rechristened Holy Paul F.C. Would you believe that Englebert came from their sponsors, a local tyre brand. Tout Puissant (all powerful) was added was added after they won their first league titlle in 1966. So watch out for another change in name if they have a succesful tournament.
Mazembe won the Orange Confederation of African Football title after beating Heartland of Nigeria on away goals
Pohang Steelers from South Korea are unimaginatively named as they belong to the Pohang Iron & Steel Company, they even play at the Steelyard. They beat Al Ittihad of Saudi Arabia at the National Olympic Stadium in Tokyo to qualify as Asian Football Champions.
Atlante from Mexico will represent CONCACAF (North America, Central America and the Caribbean). They defeated Cruz Azul, but only after the match had been postponed initially due to concerns over Swine Flu in Mexico.
The next two teams join at the semi final stage, perhaps due to the origins of this competition which comes from the old Intercontinental Cup which was held from 1960 to 2004 between the champions of South America and Europe. This also gives them the best chance of being the showpiece final that FIFA want.
Estudiantes de la Plata managed by a certain Alejandro Sabella, yes it is Alex Sabella who played for Leeds United between 1978 -80. No prizes for guessing which team I'll be supporting.
Oh and of course Barcelona will be there as well.
© Ross Clegg & Soccerphile