The Club World Cup officially kicks off on Wednesday when New Zealand’s Auckland City FC take on Egypt’s Al Ahly in the first round. The Seattle Sounders will play the winner of that game for a chance to face Real Madrid in the semifinals.
Here’s what we know about those possible opponents:
Auckland City FC
How they qualified: Won Oceania Champions League
Club World Cup appearances: 10
Best finish: 3rd in 2014
League (2022 finish): New Zealand Northern League (1st)
Opta ranking: 3,570
Transfermarkt value: €4.48m
Manager: Albert Riera
Possible starting lineup: Conor Tracey, Jordan Vale, Adam Mitchell, Christian Gray, Takuya Iwata, Gerard Garriga, Cameron Howieson, Dylan Manickum, Liam Gillion, Ryan De Vries, Joseph Lee
Although they are a semi-professional club, Auckland City hold the record for the most Club World Cup appearances with this being their 10th trip to the global championship where they had a Cinderella run to third place in 2014. Among the players who featured on that team are Ryan De Vries and Emiliano Tade, both of whom still play for Auckland City. Tade is a 34-year-old forward who led Auckland City with 17 goals last season and has 146 in a career mostly spent in New Zealand. De Vries is 31 and actually scored in that third-place game against Cruz Azul in 2014. He’s coming off a season in which he scored eight goals and also has over 100 in a career that has seen him make stops in Ireland and Japan.
The tournament comes at a somewhat inopportune time for Auckland City, as it’s basically right between the end of the 2022 season (the final was Sept. 3) and the start of the 2023 season (which kicks off on March 25). To prepare, Auckland City has spent the last couple weeks in Spain where they were able to play at least two matches, including a 1-1 tie with Barcelona B (who play in the Spanish third division).
How they qualified: Runners-up in the CAF Champions League
Club World Cup appearances: 8
Best finish: 3rd (three times, most recently in 2021)
League (2023 standing): Egyptian Premier League (1st)
Opta ranking: 155
Transfermarkt value: €29.85m
Manager: Marcel Koller
Possible lineup: Mohamed El Shenawy, Mohamed Hany, Mahmoud Metwaly, Ramy Rabia, Ali Maaloul, Hamdi Fathi, Aliou Dieng, Mohamed Magdi, Hussein El Shahat, Mohamed Sherif, Ahmed Abdelkader
No team enters this tournament hotter or more decorated than African giants Al Ahly, who are undefeated in the Egyptian Premier League through 15 matches (11-0-4) and have outscored opponents 26-5. In addition to being in exceptional form, they also bring a ton of history into the tournament with more than 100 trophies to their name. Among those titles are 42 in the Egyptian Premier League and nine from CAF Champions League.
Leading the offense is Egypt international Mohamed Sherif, who has five goals this year and has consistently been one of the top scorers in the domestic league over the last few years.
The real strength of Al Ahly, though, is their defense. Leading the way is goalkeeper Mohamed El Shenawy, who has posted 10 shutouts and not allowed more than one goal in any of his 15 starts this year. Defensive midfielder Aliou Dieng is rated as their most valuable player by Transfermarkt at about $3.5 million and is considered to have good range and passing ability.
How to watch
Kickoff: Wednesday, February 1, 11 AM PT
TV: FS2 / Fox Deportes