Hosts take on Oceania champions in curtain-raiser

Qatari club Al Sadd, winners of their domestic league and AFC Champions League semi-finalists this year, will take on surprise Oceania champions Hienghene Sport in the opening game of the 16th edition of the FIFA Club World Cup™.

This will be Al Sadd’s second participation in the competition after debuting in the 2011 edition, where they finished third. This time the man in charge will be none other than Xavi Hernandez, who won that 2011 edition with Barcelona. After four seasons playing for Al Sadd, the veteran Spain midfielder hung up his boots in May to take up the coaching reins.

Facing them will be Hienghene Sport, the first New Caledonian team to reach the Club World Cup, who themselves will be hoping to spring a surprise.

Former FC Barcelona player and Al-Sadd Sports Club head coach Xavi Hernandez gestures during the friendly match between Palamos and Al-Sadd Sports Club at Palamos Municipal stadium in Palamos, Girona, northeastern Spain, 21 July 2019

🗓 The Game

Al Sadd vs Hienghene Sport

11 December, Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, 20:30 local time

🤓 What you need to know

"We’ve looked at Hienghene and we understand that we’re the favourites, although you still have to go out and do it on the pitch. Our aim is for the players not to feel the added pressure that comes with being the home team and wanting to perform – as can often happen. We want them to play without fear and express themselves freely. There are some quality players in my team." Xavi Hernandez, Al Sadd coach

Host side causing a stir: The Club World Cup is a tournament given to surprises. In the last six editions, home advantage has propelled the host nation’s representatives to the final on three occasions: Raja Casablanca (2013), Kashima Antlers (2016) and Al Ain (2018). Can Al Sadd repeat the feat this year?

Baghdad Bounedjah of Al Sadd celebrates after scoring during the second leg of the quarterfinal match against Saudi s Al-Nassr at the AFC Champions League in Doha, capital of Qatar, Sept. 16, 2019. Al Sadd won the match 3-1 and qualified to the semifinal on a 4-3 aggregate score. (Photo by Nikku/Xinhua)

🔎 Players to watch

Baghdad Bounedjah:

Despite the backbone of the team comprising about half the Qatari side that won this year’s AFC Asian Cup, opponents would still be advised to keep a close eye on the Algerian international. Voted best player at the 2019 African Cup of Nations, he is a very difficult striker to stop when on a roll. His 39 goals this season were key to Al Sadd's league title triumph.

Rocky Nyikeine:

Deservedly voted best goalkeeper in this year’s OFC Champions League, during which his stellar performances helped Hienghene remain unbeaten throughout and concede just twice in six games. His performance will be key to his side’s fortune in Qatar.

New Caledonia's Hienghene Sport celebrate after winning the 2019 OFC Champions League final in Noumea.

📲 Follow Qatar 2019

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