Al Jazira look to set tone with win over Pirae in CWC opener

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Al Jazira’s players attend a training session in Abu Dhabi.

Mohammad Abdullah, Senior Sports Reporter

UAE’s Al Jazira and AS Pirae of Tahiti will set the ball rolling in the opening match of the FIFA Club World Cup in Abu Dhabi on Thursday.

A total of seven teams will vie for the top honours in the tournament, which will be held from Feb.3-12. Abu Dhabi is set to host the showpiece event for a record fifth time.  The six champions from the six continents take part in the annual event and one team represents the host nation.

The seven participating teams are Al Jazira, the host and the UAE Pro League champions; Chelsea, the European champion; Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, the Asian champion; Al Ahly of Egypt, the CAF champions; Palmeiras of Brazi will lead South American charge and Mexican club Monterrey will represent North American confederation with Pirae of Tahiti coming from Oceania.

Pirae will represent Oceana confederation for the time on the world stage after the New Zealand’s Auckland had to withdraw due to the country’s strict COVID-19 rules.

Al Jazira are playing in the competition for the second time in four years flagship competition. It is a feat, which has not been achieved by any other UAE team.

Four years ago, the capital club finished fourth in the competition, whence they played Spanish giants Real Madrid. Al Jazira’s long-standing skipper and goalkeeper Ali Khaseif still revels in the glory when they played Real in the semi-finals.

He went down the memory to recall the most memorable moments of professional life during a press conference ahead of the match.

“It is just an hour for any player to participate in the Club World Cup as iot is one of the best international competition,” said Khaseif, who has been with Al Jazira for 17 years.

“To be honest, when we first found out that we are playing at the Club World Cup, we were not expecting it to be that tough. We were able to reach the semi-final.

“Our objective was to go even further, but when you face a team as huge as Real, everybody knows how good they are. In football, nothing is impossible,” added Khasief, Khaseif, who himself is a big fan of Real and kept the European giants at bay for 49 minutes.

However, he also vowed to do better in next time. Al Jazira will have to win two matches on a trot to book a semis date.

“But what happened actually is that we did football proud. And hope we will do even better next time. The Real game was one of the best I ever played in my  career,” he added.

“We were up against the some of the best players of the world and by the grace of Allah, I was able to stand in the goal strong against Real. I was fortunate to do well an d win man of the match award,” he informed.

Al Jazira coach Marcel Keizer is confident of going deeper in the tournament this time around.

“It is very tough tournament and all the teams are the champions of their respective continents. But we are confident that we will put a winning performance and try better our record,” said Keizer.

Al Jazira will miss the services of few of their top most players as Khalfan Mubarak has been sidelined with an injury while a few players are back form the World Cup qualifier against Iran, played just 48 hours ahead of the start of the first match.

The winner of the first match will take on AFC Champions League champions Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia in the third match of the tournament for a place in the semi-finals.

In the second match, Al Ahly of Egypt will take on Monterrey of Mexico and the winner of the match will face Palmeiras in the first semi-final.

In the second semi-final, UEFA Champions League winner Chelsea will take on the winner of the third match. And the final will be played between Feb.12.  Other team will vie to decide the third, fourth and fifth best finishers.

Meanwhile, it is only the second time that three teams – Al Ahly, Al Hilal and Al Jazira — are participating in the marquee event.  In 2019, Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia; Esperance of Tunisia and Al Sadd of Qatar had made appearances. All the three clubs, who are participating in the 2022 edition of the event, have a huge fan following in the region.

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