Al Sadd and their coach Xavi Hernandez are set to return to FIFA Club World Cup fold tomorrow when they meet Hienghene Sport in the opening match of the seven-team event.
Al Sadd last played the FIFA Club World Cup in 2011 when – coached by Jorge Fossati – the Doha giants finished third behind Barcelona and Santos of Brazil.
Xavi, a two-time winner of the event with Barcelona, is now on the touchline with Al Sadd with whom he played a couple of seasons before taking over as coach at the start of the 2019-20 season.
Having been eliminated at the semi-final stage of the AFC Champions League in October by eventual champions Al Hilal, Al Sadd were not going to be robbed of their place at the finals at the December 11-21 event. The Qatari club had already qualified for the event as hosts having emerged QNB Stars League Champions last season.
The home side must be feeling confident following the return of the national team players after the end of the Gulf Cup.
National team captain Hassan Al Haydos, Asian Player of the Year Akram Afif, star goalkeeper Saad Al Sheeb and key defender Abdelkarim Hassan will join feared striker Baghdad Bounedjah, playmaker Gabi and Bualem Khoukhi.
On the other hand, Al Sadd’s rivals at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium Hienghene Sport were the first visiting side to land in Qatar, having travelled 13,000km from New Caledonia to represent Oceania as OFC Champions League winners.
The club are just 22 years old and were crowned continental champions in only their second appearance in the tournament, seeing them spring onto the global stage as the first non-New Zealand side to represent the OFC since 2010. They’re going to savour every moment.
Meanwhile, Monterrey and ES Tunis are serial regulars, but are yet to clinch the final spot they both yearn. Together they’ve made it to the finals seven times since 2011 – will this year be the one where it all comes together?
Arab giants Al Hilal may have finished top of the pile for the third time in Asia – with this being their first time they have hoisted the AFC Champions League aloft since it began in 2002 – but Saudi Arabia’s most successful club are set to take their opening bow at the Club World Cup.
Meanwhile, Liverpool and Flamengo command two of the biggest fanbases on the planet, with both used to seeing passionate supporters fill their respective and hallowed cathedrals of football. The duo will land in Qatar as Europe and South America’s best, honours that place them as favourites – with the trophy yet to reside outside either continent.
They arrive fitting of their monikers, with both sides in scintillating form. While Flamengo are fresh from being crowned Brazilian champions, suffering just one defeat since August, Liverpool at present sit eight points clear at the top of the Premier League, without defeat in the competition since January.
With attacking prowess and intensity high on both of their talented rosters, the likes of Mohamed Salah, Gabriel ‘Gabigol’ Barbosa, Virgil van Dijk and Bruno Henrique will be certain to entertain the global audience.
On December 21, the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 will climax with one of them hoisting the trophy after eight games pitting the best the planet has to offer. Who will it be? Stay tuned! (The Peninsula)