Seven challengers, one goal
© AFP

United Arab Emirates celebrated its National Day last Wednesday, with decorations, flags and fanfare abounding on the 38th anniversary of the seven emirates joining together to form one Arab nation in 1971. And following hot on the heels of these festivities is the eagerly anticipated FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2009, set to be held in Abu Dhabi between 9 and 19 December.

The showpiece tournament features the champions of six continents, along with reigning UAE League kings Al Ahli, with fans expected to flock to each and every game. Final tickets are completely sold out already, and organisers have also highlighted the huge demand for tickets for both semi-finals, with one involving UEFA Champions League winners Barcelona and the other Copa Libertadores victors Estudiantes.

Yet it is not all about the likes of Lionel Messi, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Juan Sebastian Veron, with massive interest shown in the other five teams set to battle it out to join the European and South American giants in the last four. The host nation supporters will be hoping Emirates’ representatives Al Ahli make a strong start against Oceania champions Auckland City of New Zealand on Wednesday 9 December’s Opening Match, for which very few tickets still remain.

“From the moment it was first announced that the UAE would be hosting the tournament, we’ve been carefully following all of the continental champions and would like to welcome them all to Abu Dhabi,” said Al Ittihad newspaper’s deputy sports editor Mohamed Al Bad’a, exemplifying the keen media interest in the global competition. “We’ve reacted to events and have been counting down the 100 days before the start of the competition.”

Hosting the tournament is a positive step for Abu Dhabi, which I believe has recently become a top-class international sports destination.
Al Ittihad newspaper’s deputy sports editor Mohamed Al Bad’a

“Hosting the tournament is a positive step for Abu Dhabi, which I believe has recently become a top-class international sports destination, especially after recent successes including hosting a Formula One race,” continued Al Bad’a. “I will add the Club World Cup to that list, with huge praise already received from officials and great things expected of the competition. This also follows on from the success of the 2003 edition of the U-20 World Cup, which was exceptionally well organised by the UAE.”

Al Bad’a also made mention of the efforts made to ensure good attendances for the event: “There has been a concentrated effort to attract supporters to the tournament. A range of incentives were announced which, along with the cooperation of a number of organisations, have made the tournament extremely popular.”

Also sure to catch the eye at the tournament, whose matches are to be played at the Mohammad Bin Zayed Stadium and Zayed Sports City, is the competition’s official mascot: an Arabian Dhabi (gazelle). This choice was made to reflect the heritage and spirit of the tournament’s host city Abu Dhabi, which itself literally translates as 'Father of Gazelle'.

So, all the ingredients are in place for a stunning competition: the final FIFA tournament of the year. With each of the seven competing clubs determined to end the calendar year on a high, who will finish on top of the pile come 19 December’s final?