The FIFA Club World Cup is a unique opportunity for teams from every continent to compete against the very best sides on the planet. Although the tournament has never been won by a club from an Arab country, the last six editions have seen some excellent performances by teams from the region. The most notable has to be the third place finish by Egyptian outfit Al Ahly in 2006, arguably the greatest success ever achieved by an Arab team on any stage.
Arab participation in the competition began with the very first edition in Brazil in 2000. On that occasion, Saudi outfit Al Nasr qualified by winning the 1998 Asian Super Cup. Moroccan side Raja Casablanca were the other Arab representatives, after they won the CAF Champions League in 1999. Unfortunately the two were placed in the same group and went out after first round defeats by Spanish giants Real Madrid and Brazilian side Corinthians. Nevertheless, the match between the two Arab sides was a thrilling, end-to-end encounter, and one in which Al Nasr eventually prevailed 4-3.
Mixed fortunes for Al Ahly
The next edition of the FIFA Club World Cup was held in 2005 and once again two Arab teams took part. AFC Champions League winners Al Ittihad from Saudi Arabia managed a respectable fourth place, beating Al Ahly in the first round. The latter then went on to lose a play-off and finished in sixth.
Al Ahly returned for the next tournament and this time gave a far better account of themselves. They began by beating New Zealand’s Auckland City 2-0 in the quarter-final before succumbing 2-1 to Internacional of Brazil in the semis. A 2-1 win over Mexican outfit CF America in the play-off saw them clinch the bronze medal, helped in no small measure by striker Mohammad Aboutrika, whose three tournament goals saw him finish top scorer.
In the fourth edition in 2007, the sole Arab representatives were Tunisian outfit Etoile Sportive du Sahel, who reached the semi-final where they faced Argentinian behemoths Boca Juniors. Neri Cardozo’s 68th-minute strike proved decisive, dashing any hopes Etoile Sportive du Sahel had of reaching the final. In the match for third place, the Tunisians faced Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan, only to lose on penalties after a 2-2 draw.
Al Wahda carry the flag
The next two editions of the global showcase saw disappointing performances from the Arab teams. In 2008, Al Ahly finished in sixth after straight defeats at the hands of Mexican team Pachuca and Adelaide United from Australia. The following year their namesakes, Al Ahli from Dubai failed to capitalise on home advantage, losing 2-0 to Auckland City in the opening game.
With Arab clubs failing to win either the Asian or African Champions League this year, hopes rest on Al-Wahda Sports Club, the UAE league champions. They enter the tournament as the host country’s representatives and are guaranteed widespread support from around the Arab world.
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