The Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium is set for two second-round matches of the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2018 on Saturday.
Tournament hosts Al Ain – who progressed following an emotional penalty shoot-out win over Team Wellington on Wednesday – face a daunting opponent in CAF Champions League winners Esperance de Tunis.
The winner of that second-round match will progress to play CONMEBOL representatives River Plate, who claimed the Copa Libertadores trophy last week, in the first semi-final which will be played at Hazza Bin Zayed Stadium on Tuesday.
With a glamour semi-final against River Plate lying in wait, Al Ain coach Zoran Mamic is not looking beyond his side’s second round opponents.
“I have always said there is only one game at a time,” said Mamic. “Of course, the fans have a big expectation, but we have to be real. This tournament has the teams that won the Copa Libertadores in South America, the European Champions League, the North American, African and Asian Champions Leagues, it’s not easy. As the host team, we have luck to play in this tournament, so we have to enjoy it and represent the country and the club in the best possible way.
In the opening encounter, AFC Champions League winners Kashima Antlers face CONCACAF Champions League holders CD Guadalajara in a showdown to progress to the competition’s semi-final stage. At stake is a glamour tie against UEFA Champions League history-makers Real Madrid, who are aiming to become the first team to win three consecutive FIFA Club World Cup titles.
Having taken the managerial hot-seat following Chivas’ qualification for the Club World Cup, CD Guadalajara coach Jose Cardozo believes his side – which comprises only Mexican players – is ready.
“It’s a pleasure to be here in Al Ain,” said Cardoza. “It is a huge responsibility to compete at this level and the team is ready. We must do what we know: attack, keep possession – we will not change what we know. We have worked a lot on our tactics to match the dynamic Kashima team. We are peaceful and calm. This is our moment of truth – we start our dream.”
FIFA has stepped up its push to introduce a new Nations League and Club World Cup.
A task force created by the world governing body to explore the feasibility of the two new competitions has met for the first time, it has been confirmed.
FIFA want to introduce a global version of UEFA’s European Nations League, which was launched in the autumn, and revamp the existing Club World Cup.
The task force, which comprises members of the six confederations (AFC, CAF, CONCACAF, CONMEBOL, OFC and UEFA) and FIFA, are to draw up proposals for the competitions’ formats. They will report to FIFA’s next council meeting in Miami on March 15.
Previous ideas for the Club World Cup, which is currently played every December featuring six teams, include expanding to a 24-team tournament played every four years.
UEFA has previously opposed the plan but “parallel consultation” with “other stakeholders including clubs, players and leagues” will take place alongside the task force’s work.
FIFA Deputy Secretary General (football) Zvonimir Boban said: “The work of this task force is another important step in the consultation process to understand the landscape in which competitions like these would be implemented and what impact they would have.
“The task force should provide the FIFA council with a complete breakdown of the sporting elements to be taken into consideration when making a decision on such an important matter for the future of football.”
Former Tottenham and Republic of Ireland striker Robbie Keane has announced his retirement as a player.
The 38-year-old captained his country for a decade and scored 325 goals in 737 appearances for 10 different clubs during a 23-year playing career.
“Today, after 23 wonderful years, I am formally announcing my retirement as a professional footballer,” Keane said in a statement.
“From Crumlin United around the world to the likes of Milan, London and Los Angeles, I could never have imagined the path my football life would take. It has exceeded all the hopes I had as a football-mad boy growing up in Dublin.”
Keane played for the likes of Wolves, Tottenham, Inter Milan, Leeds, Liverpool and LA Galaxy after arriving in England aged 15.
He is also the Republic’s all-time leading scorer, netting 68 goals in 146 appearances before retiring from international football in 2016.
The Republic’s new manager Mick McCarthy’s appointed Keane as his assistant last week alongside Terry Connor following the recent departure of Martin O’Neill.
“Playing and captaining my country has been the highlight of my career,” he said.
“I enjoyed every moment of the most incredible journey with the Ireland team over an 18-year period and as I have said many times before, words cannot express how proud I am to be Irish.”
Keane arrived in England with Wolves in 1997 and moved on to Coventry for £6 million after two seasons in the first team.
Further moves followed, to Inter Milan (£13m) and Leeds (£12m) before he spent six years at Tottenham.
“I had the great privilege to represent and captain Tottenham over 238 games. I had many wonderful times there and I will look back on my days at White Hart Lane with great fondness. The club will always hold a special place in my heart,” he said.
Liverpool paid over £20m to sign Keane from Tottenham in 2008, but he returned to White Hart Lane six months later.
Following loan spells at Celtic and West Ham he moved his family to Los Angeles, where he spent “five hugely successful and rewarding years, both on and off the field, with LA Galaxy”.
Keane added: “To all those who believed in me, supported me and picked me up when I needed a hand, you can never know how much that has all meant. It was an honour to represent you.”