The FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 is finally upon us, and it is with a regional derby that the action will commence. Australian side Adelaide United make their tournament debut against New Zealand's Waitakere United, eager to clinch a berth in the quarter-finals and another crack at Gamba Osaka, the club that defeated them in the recent AFC Champions League final. The mission for their opponents, on the other hand, will be to record their first victory in the competition at the second attempt.
Adelaide United-Waitakere United, Tokyo, Thursday 11 December, 19:45 (local time)
A place in the last eight is the prize on offer on Thursday, and in that match the victors will come up against local representatives Gamba Osaka. Waitakere lost to Iranian outfit Sepahan 3-1 at the same stage last term, and will hope they have absorbed the lessons of that loss as they aim to upset tournament newcomers Adelaide. Aurelio Vidmar's men are clear favourites given their fine run in the AFC Champions League, where they eliminated competition stalwarts Kashima Antlers and Bunyodkor, and they also lead the way in the Australian A-League after recently dismantling Wellington 6-1.
Victory for Adelaide would set up an emotional rematch of last month's AFC Champions League final and the chance for revenge, while Waitakere will be keen to land a blow for football in Oceania. In eight FIFA Club World Cup games, teams from the Oceanian Zone have managed just a solitary triumph. The New Zealanders will therefore look to build on last year's experience to see them through. "Five minutes into our match against Sepahan last year, we were losing 2-0," explained club captain Neil Emblen. "We know that this year we'll need to play as a unit right from the kick-off."
100 - This will be the 100th match in the history of the FIFA Club World Cup and its predecessor, the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup. The very first Intercontinental Cup was held in 1960 and ended in victory for Real Madrid over Uruguayan side Penarol (5-1, 0-0).
Adelaide's Brazilian midfielder Diego shares his name with the Werder Bremen playmaker but is considerably older, having turned 29 on 8 December. Waitakere's English midfielder Neil Sykes will no doubt be hoping to blow his candles out in Japan, meanwhile, as he celebrates his 34th birthday on 17 December. Should that dream come true, his club would be through to the semi-finals!
"Last year, we were very disappointed with our performance. We felt like we hadn't really given our all. With 20 minutes to go before the final whistle last year, the Japanese fans got behind us and spurred us on to score and reduce Sepahan's lead. This year, we'll need to play in the same way from the very first minute. In personal terms, I know this is probably the last time I'll have the chance to take part in an event like this, so it's even more important for me to give it everything," Neil Emblen, Waitakere United defender.
"We're honoured to be opening this tournament on our first appearance and we hope not to ruin our entrance. We studied Waitakere's play a few weeks ago and we know what to expect. We're not thinking about the potential next couple of matches against Gamba and Manchester United; we're in ‘tournament mode'. That means that we're thinking match by match. We're mentally concentrated on Waitakere and only on Waitakere," Aurelio Vidmar, Adelaide United coach.