FIFA World Cup preview: Can anyone beat Barcelona?

Barnaby Read 9/12/2015
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The world's continental kings meet at the Club World Cup.

This week, eight teams across seven confederations will head to Japan for the annual FIFA Club World Cup in search of lifting football’s only global club competition. 

While some teams see it as an unwanted distraction in an already hectic schedule, all will be hoping for glory, with clubs from more far flung corners of the world licking their lips at the prospect of taking on continental heavyweights.

The favourites will clearly be European champions Barcelona, currently being propelled to glory by Lionel Messi, Luis Suarez and Neymar.

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But those looking to upset the applecart include the likes of perennial first round losers Auckland City, Al Ahli’s AFC Champions League conquerors Guangzhou Evergrande and African champs TP Mazembe.

Here is Sport360’s club-by-club guide to the teams, and players, hoping to make their mark in Japan.

BARCELONA (Spain, UEFA)

How they got there: The European champions romped to Champions League glory last year and have somehow upped the ante once more this season, looking ruthlessly brilliant in recent months. They will take some stopping in La Liga and the Champions League this year and will be hoping to add to their previous Club World Cup victories in 2009 and 2011.

Star man: MSN – Okay, it’s not one person but any one of the world class trio of Messi, Suarez and Neymar is capable of leading their side to glory. All will relish the challenge of showing their huge fan base in Japan just how good they are in the flesh.

Prediction: Winners

Did you know: With two titles to their name, Barcelona are the most successful team in Club World Cup history, alongside Brazilian side Corinthians. They also finished runners-up in 2006.

RIVER PLATE (Argentina, CONMEBOL)

How they got there: A third Copa Libertadores was delivered to River for the first time in 19 years, capping an overdue return to the top of South American football for the Argentinian giants. They couldn’t back it up with more domestic glory, however, finishing a disappointing ninth in this year’s Primera Division.

Star man: Javier Saviola – The 33-year-old will be fondly remembered by European football fans and if they can claim victory in their semi-final tie a potential meeting with former club Barca is a salivating prospect for Saviola. He’ll be desperate to show he can still do it at the top level.

Prediction: Runners-up

Did you know: River have never appeared in the Club World Cup. Three other Argentinian sides have featured in the tournament. Estudiantes (lost 2009 final to Barcelona), Boca Juniors (lost 2007 final to Milan) and San Lorenzo (lost 2014 final to Real Madrid) have all appeared once before and been beaten finalists.

GUANGZHOU EVERGRANDE (China, AFC)

How they got there: Having ousted Al Ahli in last month’s AFC Champions League final, a number of football fans in the UAE will watch Guangzhou with envious eyes, pondering what could have been. The Chinese club, led by Luiz Felipe Scolari, deserved that victory and an appearance at the Club World Cup is the next step for a team with global ambitions.

Star man: Ricardo Goulart – The Brazilian has been a revelation in China, scoring 19 in 27 appearances since signing for €15m from Cruzeiro. The attacking midfielder will be integral to any hopes Scolari and his team have of winning the competition.

Prediction: Third place

Did you know: By adding this year’s AFC Champions League to their previous success in 2013, Guangzhou became the first Chinese club to win Asia’s premier continental competition twice.

CLUB AMERICA (Mexico, CONCACAF)

How they got there: The CONCACAF Champions league winners are the most successful side in Mexican football history having won 12 league titles. Heading into their 100th year in existence, a Club World Cup title would be a fine tribute to their rich past but it will be a huge task.

Star man: Rubens Sambueza – The Argentinian captain of America moved from Estudiantes Tecos back in 2012 and has been a vital cog since. 

Prediction: Fifth

Did you know: Despite their domestic dominance, Club America have only appeared at one other Club World Cup. Mexican sides are notoriously bad performers in the tournament and have never gone beyond third place.

TP MAZEMBE (DR Congo, CAF)

How they got there: The CAF Champions League winners made Club World Cup history back in 2010 as the first African side to reach the final. They’ve done it once before, yes, but do not expect them to do it again. Sorry, TP fans.

Star man: Robert Kidiaba – The 39-year-old Congolese goalkeeper was there for that run in 2010, when he made a name for himself with a rather intriguing way of celebrating penalty kicks that would have made fellow African stopper Bruce Grobbelaar proud. 

Prediction: Sixth

Did you know: TP Mazembe were founded in 1939 (then as FC Saint-Georges) by Benedictine monks who were out to give missionaries and their students something a little different to aid their studies.

SANFRECCE HIROSHIMA (Japan, AFC)

How they got there: As hosts of the tournament, Japan’s domestic victors enter the tournament in its qualifying stage, where they take on the ever present Auckland City. They have won three of the last four J-League titles and will be hopeful of reaching the semi-finals, if not better, if they hit the ground running on home soil.

Star man: Douglas – The Brazilian striker took to the J-League like a duck to water, scoring 21 times in 33 league appearances as his side stormed to the  title. The 27-year-old will need to be at his effervescent best if Sanfrecce stand any chance of success.

Prediction: Fourth

Did you know: In their previous Club World Cup appearance in 2012, Sanfrecce also faced Auckland in the first round, coming out on top in a 1-0 win before being dumped out in the quarter-finals.

AUCKLAND CITY (New Zealand, OFC)

How they got there: As they do almost every year, Auckland won the OFC Champions League in 2015 to make it five on the bounce and their seventh OFC crown in the past nine years. For a team only 11 years old it highlights their regional dominance and lack of competition in equal measure.

Star man: Joao Moreira – The former Portugal U21 international struck four times in the latter staged of the OFC Champions League and it will be up to him to lead the line for Auckland in Japan. Moreira, 29, will look at this as a prime opportunity to put himself back in the limelight in the hope of one more move back to Europe.

Prediction: Seventh

Did you know: Auckland will have appeared in seven out of 12 Club World Cups by the end of this year’s competition, the most by any team in the tournament’s history.

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Ronaldinho, Scholes & Pirlo going to Kuwait

Ashraf Abdin 8/12/2015
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Global stars will descend on Kuwait on December 18.

Global football legends including Andrea Pirlo, Steven Gerrard and Ronaldinho will line up at the official opening of Kuwait’s Jaber Al-Ahmad International Stadium on December 18.

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A Kuwaiti All-Star XI will take on an International All-Star XI at the 60,000-seater stadium in Kuwait City.

Pirlo, Gerrard and Ronaldinho will be joined on the field by the likes of Carles Puyol, Alessandro Del Piero, Paul Scholes and Alessandro Nesta, while Arab stars including Egypt legend Mohammed Aboutrika are also set to play.

The event’s organising committee stated that the tickets will go on sale on Tuesday for a game that is expected to be show on almost 40 television channels worldwide.

The Jaber Stadium was originally certified by FIFA in 2010 but has only been used sporadically since.

The arena’s VVIP section, known as the Emir’s Box, is modelled on the Directors’ Box at Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium and is expected to be occupied by some of the biggest sporting stars in the globe for the All Stars match.

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Al Ahli’s Gulf Cup dreams on hold

Denzil Pinto 7/12/2015
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Unhappy: Ahli boss Cosmin Olaroiu.

Al Ahli will have to wait to book their place in the semi-finals of the Arabian Gulf Cup after being held to a dull 0-0 draw against 10-man Bani Yas on Monday.

Victory for the Red Knights would have guaranteed a place in the knockouts but fate is still in their hands. They can join Group A leaders Al Wasl with three points against Al Dhafra in their final match next Wednesday.

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It was a much-changed Ahli side with coach Cosmin Olaroiu making eight changes, Salmin Khamis, Habib Al Fardan and Majed Hassan, the only survivors from their 3-0 defeat to Arabian Gulf League (AGL) leaders Al Ain on Saturday.

Already eliminated, it was no surprise that Bani Yas coach Luis Garcia fielded a second-string side with first-team stars Mark Milligan and Joaquin Larrivey demoted to the bench.

With breezy conditions in Abu Dhabi, both sides struggled to find any breakthrough on goal with neither goalkeeper tested in the first 20 minutes.

Seven minutes from the first-half whistle, Ahli’s Majed Naser was forced into action, denying Fawaz Awana with a low strong right hand save.

That sparked the visitors to life and after record signing Moussa Sow, saw his shot well saved, Hassan Abdulrahman’s strike was blocked by Abel Abdubaker.

The second half began just as it ended in the first half with defenders coming out on top.

Not impressed by what he saw on the bench and with his team failing to make the most of their opportunities, the Olaroiu vented his frustration when
defender Mohamed Sabeel gave away possession just after the half hour mark.

The Romanian then added more firepower up front with the introduction of Lima and Asian Player of the Year Ahmed Khalil.

The pair, who have 15 goals between them this season, gave the Champions League finalists much needed confidence.

But still, they did not have the cutting edge in front of goal, resulting in Everton Ribeiro being brought on before Bani Yas’ Hasan Mohamed was sent off for a second yellow.

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