Al Ahly s Ali Maaloul, right, runs with the ball during the FIFA Club World Cup soccer match between Al Ahly FC and Auckland City FC at the Tangier stadium, in Tangier, Morocco, Wednesday, Feb. 1, 2023. AP
The Cairo giants, who are making their eighth appearance – the third in a row – in the Club World Cup, opened their campaign in Morocco by beating New Zealand side Auckland City 3-0 easily in the preliminary round on Wednesday to set up a date with Seattle Sounders in the prestigious international tournament.
The 10-time African Champions League holders, who are aiming to advance to the prestigious tournament title for the first time after finishing in third place in two previous appearances, are expecting a harder opponent in the game against the Sounders, who came to Morocco as the winners of the 2022 CONCACAF champions.
“We will face a different opponent in a top performance and we have to prepare well for the game,” Ahly football director Sayed Abdel-Hafiz told the club’s TV channel early on Friday.
African vs Latin
“The Seattle Sounders are playing in the Latin school style. They have talented players in their squad so the game is expected to be difficult,” Ahly coach Marcel Koller told the pre-game press conference on Friday, referring to the fast-paced style of football associated with South American teams such as Brazil and Argentina.
“Every new game is the most important game,” Koller said as he likes to remind his players before every game.
Ahly started their FIFA Club World Cup campaign by beating New Zealand side Auckland City 3-0 easily in the preliminary round on Wednesday to set-up the Seattle Sounders clash.
"In Auckland City, we faced a tough opponent. But, Ahly have talented players who make the difference in such big games,” boasted the 62-year-old Swiss tactician, who took over the helm of the Red Devils in September and is leading the table in the Egyptian Premier League ahead of the nearest opponent by double digits.
“All the participants in the Club World Cup know the quality of Ahly players well," said Koller.
On Wednesday, Ahly’s winger Hussein El-Shahat, 30, opened the scoring against Auckland City, just before the break.
El-Shahat's goal against the Kiwis made him the first African and Arab player and the fourth globally - after Lionel Messi, Gareth Bale and Cristiano Ronaldo - to score in three Club World Cups.
Striker Mohamed Sherif, 26, added the second with three minutes left before the hour mark. Finally, substitute South African forward Percy Tau, 28, made it 3-0 after a slick back pass four minutes from time to confirm the win.
Comfortable playing in Morocco
Ahly players enjoyed superb support from the tournament host’s Moroccan fans during the game against Auckland City on Wednesday and could expect more support against the Sounders on Saturday.
“I want to thank Moroccan fans for their support. We admire them. I hope the friendliness will continue between the two country’s citizens,” the Ahly football director said.
Ahly are participating in this edition of the FIFA Club World Cup alongside African champions and hosts Wydad de Casablanca who are also the 2022 African Champions League holders.
Ahly aims for the Meringues
By beating the Sounders, Ahly could set up a historic meeting against Spanish giants Real Madrid, the UEFA Champions league winners, in the semi-finals on Wednesday 8 February.
"As players, we talked about the possibility of reaching the final,” El-Shahat told FIFA+
“Why not? Our aim is to win the title this time. Hopefully, luck will be on our side, as we have performed better every time we have played at this tournament," El-Shahat added.
Ahly were granted a spot in the competition despite finishing as runners-up to Wydad de Casablanca in the African Champions League last season, taking advantage of the selection of Morocco as the host country.
The Seattle Sounders are the first club ever from the USA to participate in the tournament.
Morocco is hosting the prestigious tournament in Rabat and Tangier in a first for a country in Africa.
This seven-team edition will give way to a new expanded version in 2025.
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