Chelsea stand in Al Ahly’s way for Club World Cup title

As the seven-team competition begins off Thursday, 3 February in Abu Dhabi, Chelsea coach Thomas Tuchel will seek to guide Chelsea to further silverware and their first Club World Cup victory.

Following Saturday’s FA Cup clash against third-tier Plymouth, the European champions will head to the UAE in the hopes of becoming the third English team to win the trophy after Manchester United and Liverpool.

“I have to say once you are in it you are pretty excited,” Tuchel told the Chelsea website.

“Once you are not in it, it is a competition that has not the highest focus and highest value. It seems like this in Europe, or only for me.

“But once you are in it and you start planning it and you see it coming on the horizon is it quite exciting.”

Tuchel guided Chelsea to a 1-0 victory over Manchester City in last season’s Champions League final. The Blues then edged Villarreal on penalties to claim the UEFA Super Cup in August.

Chelsea return to the Club World Cup for a second time having finished as runners-up to Corinthians in 2012 in Japan – the last time a team from outside Europe won the trophy.

They will play Asian Champions League winners Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia, local side Al Jazira or Tahiti’s AS Pirae in the semi-finals here on February 9.

“It is a big opportunity to win an extraordinary trophy which is far from daily business and that is why we will do anything to take the chance to make it happen,” said Tuchel.

Palmeiras, one of a record nine Brazilian clubs to have graced the tournament, should pose the main threat to Chelsea after defending their Copa Libertadores crown in November.

CONCACAF Champions League winners Monterrey are taking part for the fifth time. They face African giants Al Ahly in the second round, with Palmeiras awaiting the victors in the last four.

Al Ahly will make their seventh appearance after capturing a record-extending 10th CAF Champions League title, but the Cairo-based club are without a number of key players who are still involved with Egypt at the Africa Cup of Nations.

The latest edition of the tournament – which features the champions of the six continental confederations along with the top team in the host nation – was due to be played at the end of 2021 in Japan before it pulled out as host because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Club World Cup is usually played in December but this is the second successive year in which it has been delayed – the 2020 edition in Qatar was played in February last year.

Oceania champions Auckland City withdrew for the second year running due to pandemic complications, leaving Pirae to step in and become the first Tahitian team to compete.

However, the amateurs from French Polynesia were forced to delay their departure last week after seven players and two members of staff tested positive for Covid-19.

Pirae must overcome the 17 000km-plus trip and 14-hour time difference going into the tournament opener against Al Jazira, who came fourth in 2017 and led Real Madrid in the semi-final before losing 2-1.

“First we want to beat Al Jazira and then we want to go all the way and win the trophy. Why not? It’s football, anything can happen,” Pirae captain Alvin Tehau told FIFA.com.

Bayern Munich won the most recent edition of the Club World Cup, which has been held in the UAE on four previous occasions, most recently in 2018 when Real Madrid were the winners.

A lucrative, revamped 24-team Club World Cup, including eight sides from Europe, was due to be played in China last year before the pandemic put that project on hold.

Recent Club World Cup winners

2020: Bayern Munich (GER)

2019: Liverpool (ENG)

2018: Real Madrid (ESP)

2017: Real Madrid (ESP)

2016: Real Madrid (ESP)

2015: Barcelona (ESP)

2014: Real Madrid (ESP)

2013: Bayern Munich (GER)

2012: Corinthians (BRA)

2011: Barcelona (ESP)

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