Al Wahda Sports Club have every reason to look forward to the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010. Taking part in the competition for the first time, the reigning Emirati champions will have the home fans cheering them on when they get the tournament under way on Wednesday against Papua New Guinea’s Hekari United FC.
Leading the team out for the occasion will be their 30-year-old captain Haidar Alo Ali, who shared his views on the competition with FIFA.com and described what it will mean to him to be taking on the rest of the world in front of his own people.
“Taking part in this event is obviously a great honour for me,” he began. “What makes me even happier, though, is the fact I’ll be wearing the captain’s armband because tournaments like this always go down in the history of the game.”
Asked for his views on Wednesday’s curtain-raiser against the Oceanian champions, Haidar said he is expecting a stiff test: “It’s going to be difficult because it’s the first game of the tournament and both sides will be doing all they can to win. And I don’t believe for a minute that Hekari will be as easy to beat as some people are saying. Our coach Josef Hickersberger made a special trip to Papua New Guinea to watch them and he told us they have some excellent players, especially up front.
"Obviously Al Wahda are looking to go far in the competition but we need to have our minds completely focused on this first game. We have to respect our rivals and take them very seriously. In football it’s not names that count but what happens on the pitch.”
And as far as Alo Ali is concerned, Al Wahda have the potential to achieve big things in the next few days: “It goes without saying that we want to go as far as we can in the tournament. I feel that if we can win this first match, we can blaze a trail for Emirati football as a whole.”
Al Wahda’s build-up to the big event has included several warm-up matches, not to mention a special training camp in Egypt. And with their UAE internationals available for the tournament after missing the Gulf Cup, which is currently being held in Yemen, they have been able to prepare thoroughly.
As Alo Ali explains, those preparations have gone without a hitch: “Everything’s been perfect. All the players are very motivated and they want to show how technically gifted and mentally prepared they are. We’ve played some very demanding matches lately, especially against Saudi Arabian club Al Shabab. Then we went to the training camp in Egypt, where we also took on Ismaily. I think the whole programme has been really good for us. It’s given the players the chance to get in good shape for the tournament.”
Should those preparations result in victory over Hekari United, Al Wahda will face Korea Republic’s Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma FC in the quarter-finals, an eventuality that Alo Ali believes is well within their grasp: “We need to think about the opening game first of all, but I feel that if we can beat Hekari we’ll have every motivation we need for the second game against Seongnam. That would be a golden opportunity for us to reach the semi-finals and write a beautiful chapter in the history of Emirati football.”
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This is the second year running that the FIFA Club World Cup will be taking place in the United Arab Emirates. And while local favourites Al Ahli went down 2-0 to New Zealand’s Auckland City 12 months ago, Alo Ali is confident the nation’s football fans will have more to cheer about this time, and is expecting them to provide the team with plenty of vocal support: “We’re calling on Emirati supporters in general and Al Wahda fans in particular to get right behind us. Everyone has to cheer the team on because we’re representing the country as a whole. I can tell you we’ll be doing our very best to make our fans’ dreams come true, and I hope things go our way, especially in the first match.”
The Al Wahda skipper is also expecting his team to prove a tougher nut for the rest of the world to crack than Al Ahli last year. “The circumstances are totally different this time,” he explains. “You have to remember that Al Ahli had several players out with injury. We’ve learned the lessons from that and we won’t be letting anyone down.”
Yet, however far his team progresses, Alo Ali is expecting the seven clubs taking part in the competition to put on quite a show: “There are some very strong teams in the field and it’s going to be really exciting. I think Inter Milan are going to be a very big draw and there are a couple of other clubs who’ll be well worth watching, teams with a good record in the Club World Cup, like Internacional of Brazil, who’ve won the competition before, and Pachuca of Mexico, who’ve played in it several times.”