Al Jazira’s cubs will “fight like lions” in their bid to secure a berth in the Club World Cup’s quarter-finals, according to coach Henk ten Cate.
The Pride of Abu Dhabi are carrying the hopes of the host nation when the competition returns to the UAE for the first time in seven years, from December 6-16. They will need to navigate a tricky play-off against tournament veterans Auckland City of New Zealand at Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday night (21:00 kick-off) before they can dream of meeting the likes of UEFA Champions League holders Real Madrid, AFC Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds or Copa Libertadores champions Gremio.
Problems on and off the pitch have negatively impacted a poor Arabian Gulf League title defence, lauded foreign additions such as Uzbekistan forward Sardor Rashidov and ex-France anchor Lassana Diarra barely featuring. This has led to opportunities for the likes of 19-year-old midfield powerhouse Eissa Al Otaibah and 20-year-old full-back Mohamed Al Attas, a situation Ten Cate is happy to repeat this evening against the part-timers.
“We have faced some difficulties, especially with our foreign players,” said the ex-Barcelona and Chelsea assistant. “We often played with just one foreign player, for different circumstances.
“We have given young players the chance to play for the first team and at the end, it is a big bonus.
“Regardless of the result, I know we will fight like lions.”
— #ClubWC 🇦🇪🏆 (@FIFAcom) December 5, 2017
A pre-match boost for Jazira is the return of pivotal Morocco midfielder Mbark Boussoufa after a month sidelined by injury. This partly compensates for the losses of Mohamed Jamal and Mohammed Fawzi.
In contrast to the tournament debutants, Auckland are seasoned performers at this level. The Navy Blues’ domination of the OFC Champions League makes this year’s edition a ninth entry, 2014’s run to third place their best return.
The ISPS Handa Premiership leaders – who include a driver and restaurant worker in their ranks – will plan to threaten with an attacking trio of Emiliano Tade, Ryan De Vries and Callum McCowatt.
“We understand Al Jazira is a very good rival,” said Spanish coach Ramon Tribulietx.
“This is the next level of football, we play week in week out at a different level. But we’ve been here before, we understand what it takes.”
مغادرة فخر أبوظبي مقر إقامته متجهين لملعب التدريبات بنادي العين #مع_الفخر_لأجل_الوطن
Team departure ⚽️
Will be LIVE soon pic.twitter.com/HTWWZuB0Bx
— نادي الجزيرة (@AlJazira_uae) December 4, 2017
This contest acts as a preamble for bigger ties to come, largely at Abu Dhabi’s redeveloped Zayed Sports City. Ten Cate instructed his players not to get distracted by potential future glamour matches
He said: “If people keep talking about Real Madrid, it is disrespectful to Auckland and Urawa.”
Madrid land on Monday, ahead of Wednesday’s semi-finals.
Urawa, CONCACAF Champions League winners Pachuca, CAF Champions League holders Wydad Casablanca and Wednesday evening’s victors will all play in Saturday’s quarter-finals at ZSC.
How do you build an icon?
A lot of people blur the lines between iconic and popular and it’s an easy mistake to make because by all intents and purposes for something to be iconic it has to be popular.
The distinguishing factor between the two is longevity. Standing the trial of time is a challenge faced by brands across all industries and nowhere is that more prevalent than in the fast-moving world of football.
From clubs to players, matchballs to kits, iconicness towers over the cultural landscape of the beautiful game.
At the heart of it, is the boot, a recognisable artifact symbolic of generation after generation.
And one model has continuously set the standard – the adidas Predator.
Now, the genesis of an icon is no easy task but with Predator, adidas has indisputably understood and employed the right ingredients to cement a legacy as one of game’s greatest boots.
Connected to football’s most celebrated stars and synonymous with memorable moments – think David Beckham scoring from the halfway line against Wimbledon and Zinedine Zidane‘s perfectly pirouetted volley against Bayer Leverkusen – no other shoe has mastered the blend of heritage and innovation quite like Predator.
After a two-year retirement, the beast is back.
Since hitting the scene in 1994, the brainchild of former Liverpool midfielder Craig Johnston has developed to dominate both the market and the pitch.
From the rubber fins for ball manipulation to the fold-over tongues for a cleaner shooting zone, Predator almost single-handedly revolutionised boot design.
Such is it standing, few products have communicated the vision and values of adidas quite like Predator and when you look back, there has been a natural progression and evolution over the years.
While the new Predator 18+ is a subtle nod to the past, true to the brand, it’s built for the future.
But the construction of a reimagined icon presents many challenges and after a two-year assembly Sam Handy, vice president of design in adidas’ football division, believes his team has created what he describes is the “best boot” on the market.
“The boots have spent at least two years in development, from initial sketches to first prototypes,” Handy tells Sport360.
“The early prototypes we test on semi-pros or amateurs and then we build up through our testing process to the point where we are confident enough in the sample quality to test with professionals as well.
“Then we take their feedback, retest and then rebuild so it’s a very fluid and organic process of starting with a lot of people then working our way up to a few people.
“But we take the testing and the co-development with football players and then with the best professionals incredibly seriously.
“It’s a fundamental part of the brand.”
While the professionals form an integral part of the rigorous testing process, keeping a secretive project like Predator underwraps meant the likes of Pogba were almost the last to know of its return.
“One interesting reality is we were secretly bringing Predator back but we didn’t even want to tell the players,” explains Dean Lokes, vice president for product in the adidas football division.
“There’s a dressing room and people talk. A lot of the prototypes didn’t have the toe, it was just a plain toe like an ACE (model) so we left it until the absolute last moment even for the players to know we were bringing Predator back.
“Some early prototypes have on the back of it ACE 18 360 which is the code name for Predator in the same type font as Predator.
“This detail was hidden for quite a long time because we know players talk and sometimes images get shot, even the secretness was held to the top players for as long as we could do.
“I think also what we may sometimes forget is, Pogba grew up wearing Predator.
“As much as we’re reconnecting the dots, the first time I talked to him, he talked about Predator, the colours of Predator, even though it was 10 years on from that period.”
Anticipation of its release saw Predator 18+ sell out within 10 minutes after launching in the UAE.
There was never any doubt the current generation of footballer would see the attraction of Predator but for the old-school boot man, the latest iteration is a big step away from the retro designs of the past.
As boot innovation has moved towards a focus on weight, the knitted design and laceless structure has become the standard.
The sockfit collar, which works to naturally expand to the foot’s shape, provides an ideal second skin for players who like to create, minimising the material between foot and ball.
But transitioning Predator from a design perspective was one of the brand’s biggest challenges.
Handy adds: “We had really good innovation, which allowed us to bring Predator back and the biggest design challenge we had through the process was to not build a retro product.
“Everyone is in love with old shoes and they’ve seen what we’ve done with the Precision bring back, with the Precision Ultra Boost and the Beckham shoes and they’re so iconic, exciting and beautiful shoes that we don’t want to make a retro.
“We want to make a Predator for 2018 that no one has ever seen before but that seamlessly connects through design language and through experience, that it feels like a Predator.
“That’s the hardest bit, to not go backwards. It would have been the easiest thing to put a fold on the tongue, it would have been the easiest thing to give it bladed studs and make it out of leather but that isn’t what our Predator and ACE players wanted.
“They want something different and we’ve built a boot for the future player and not a heritage product. That was the challenge.”
The creative direction for adidas is of course being driven by next year’s World Cup.
A plethora of new products are yet to hit the market with Predator 18+ just the tip of the releases but while the world focuses their attention on what will be on display in Russia, adidas are looking to the future.
“We’re already working on Euro 2020. We work two years out in terms of timeline so for us it’s really exciting to work on World Cup 2018 products for the last two years and to launch it now,” Handy explains.
“We’ve been looking at these for quite a long time and back in Germany we’re in the process of Euro 20 right now.”
In the summer of 2016, Manchester United raised eyebrows by breaking the world record transfer fee to bring Paul Pogba back to Old Trafford from Juventus.
The €105 million fee was astronomical but in a year’s time, Paris Saint-Germain came along and absolutely obliterated it.
The €220 million spent to wrangle Neymar away from Barcelona’s grasp dwarfed the previous record sum, more than doubling Pogba’s fee.
The Brazilian was always expected to one day establish himself as the best player in the world and his move from Santos to Barcelona in 2013 was meant to set him along that path.
While playing alongside Lionel Messi certainly helped him elevate his game to a new level, at some point, he became aware of the fact that the Argentine maestro was not slowing down and his presence began to overshadow his performances rather than facilitate his development.
Perhaps the turning point was Barcelona’s incredible comeback in the Champions League against PSG back in March, 2017. Neymar’s phenomenal performance helped the Catalans win 6-1 and overturn a 4-0 defeat in the first leg of the round of 16 tie.
He was incredible against the Parisians all night, leading Barcelona’s fightback, particularly in the dramatic closing stages when he scored twice and set up Sergi Roberto for hair-raising winner.
However, the iconic image that emerged in the aftermath, particularly from the club’s official social media channels as well, was that of Messi celebrating passionately with Barcelona fans. It was evident that the Argentine would always be the darling of the Nou Camp and attract the majority of the plaudits.
That played a big role in Neymar’s decision to move to PSG, to be the main man, win the Champions League and be rewarded with a Ballon d’Or of his own. For the French outfit, he raises their game on the pitch and their profile off it.
Octo Finissimo Automatic A Third World Record for Bulgari
Bulgari is once again the spotlight, proudly presenting its third successive world record.
The Octo Finissimo Automatic is the slimmest ultra-thin self-winding watch on the market to date.
After introducing its Tourbillon in 2014 and the Minute Repeater in 2016, the Maison unveils its new creation featuring a total thickness of just 5.15mm, while its self-winding movement is just 2.23mm thick for a 40mm diameter.
The iconic Octo is once again pushing the boundaries of watchmaking feasibility.