club world cup preview

Abu Dhabi play host to the world's best

December 8, 2009
By Jon Carter
(Archive)

Abu Dhabi has been in the spotlight ever since the buy-out of Manchester City in September 2008. Now, the capital of the United Arab Emirates will host the Club World Cup for the first time.

GettyImagesLionel Messi will take centre stage.

The global tournament - where the top teams from each of FIFA's member confederations face off against each other - is in it's sixth edition, since its inception in its current guise in 2000 and has never had so much publicity.

This year, Barcelona are favourites. Given the players at their disposal that should come as little surprise, but there could be a few shocks in a competition where the big boys don't always come out on top. Here's a guide to each of the teams who will be competing in the UAE between December 9-19:

Barcelona (Spain; Europe/UEFA)
Who are they? Champions of Europe and the Spanish La Liga, Barcelona became the first Spanish team to claim the treble when they won the Spanish Cup last year as well. Led by Pep Guardiola, the Catalans are seen as the best club side in the world for their brand of fast, attacking, football and will be heavy favourites to pick up the trophy.
Captain? Carles Puyol. A leader at the back, the shaggy-haired centre-half is one of the finest defenders in the business and bleeds Barcelona having been at the club since his youth career began in 1995.
Player to watch? Lionel Messi. Ballon d'Or winner and the player expected to pick up the FIFA World Player of the Year award too, Messi's pace and skill on the ball are unrivalled in world football. The Argentine is still only 22 years old and has the world at his feet - a good performance in the UAE would cement his place as the top player in the game.
Prediction? Winners.

Auckland City (New Zealand; Oceania/OFC)
Who are they? The New Zealanders beat Kolaole FC 9-4 on aggregate in the OFC Champions League final to make it through and they have history in the tournament having reached it in 2006. They were beaten soundly by Al-Ahly and Jeonbuk though, so are looking for their first win. Coach Paul Posa is a dentist, but may not be able to fill the holes in his defence quick enough, so expect an early exit from the minnows if they get through the play-offs.
Captain? Ivan Vicelich.An inspiration at the back, the 33-year-old is enjoying a comeback after initially retiring from international football. He helped New Zealand reach the World Cup finals and should prove a tough competitor to get past.
Player to watch? Jacob Spoonley. He may have only conceded one goal in New Zealand's domestic league so far, but the Auckland 'keeper will be a busy man at the tournament. Tall and athletic, the former Under-17 New Zealand stopper will have to be at his best. Keryn Jordan will be tasked with putting them in at the other end.
Prediction? Quarter-finalists.

Club Estudiantes de La Plata (Argentina; South America/CONMEBOL)
Who are they? The 2009 Copa Libertadores winners are no strangers to the early editions of the Club World Cup and they somewhat surprisingly beat Cruzeiro 2-1 to reach this year's competition. Led by Alejandro Sabella, their quick passing style of football should catch the eye and give them a chance of progressing far.
Captain? Juan Sebastian Veron. The former Manchester United midfielder has been reborn in his home country and has been one of the best players in Argentina over the past few seasons. An old head with the creativity that can unlock a defence, he still has a lot to offer, even if age is beginning to catch up with him.
Player to watch? Enzo Perez. A flying winger, the 23-year old has been causing all sort of problems for opposition defences down the right side of midfield. A hard worker, his dribbling and pace should be one of the main attacking threats for his side and opposing full-backs will be wary of his forays.
Prediction? Losing finalists.

Atlante Futbol Club (Mexico; Central America/CONCACAF)
Who are they? Defeating Cruz Azul in the inaugural CONCACAF Champions League final, they are an inconsistent side (with only three Mexican titles to their name), but have found success away from domestic competition. Coach Jose Guadalupe Cruz is under pressure, but the Altante legend may be forced to opt for a defensive 4-5-1 against more high-profile opposition.
Captain? Federico Vilar. The Argentine made his name in the country's lower leagues before earning his big break with Atlante at the end of 2003 and has been a star ever since. He is an imposing 'keeper and can hit a mean free-kick too, while he wears No.3 in a tribute to his father.
Player to watch? Gabriel Pereyra. The top scorer in their Champions League campaign, the midfielder has been a part of the side since 2007 and has carved out an excellent reputation since joining from Cruz Azul. A technically good player with a fine eye for goal, he will be a threat from midfield.
Prediction? Semi-finalists.

Al-Ahli (UAE; Asia/AFC)
Who are they? Not to be confused with the Egyptian side of a similar name, Al-Ahli are UAE champions and qualify for the tournament as hosts. They have won five domestic titles, but are struggling this year and coach Mahdi Ali is under pressure to perform as Al Jazira are streaking ahead. To beat Auckland in the play-off would be seen as a success.
Captain? Mohammad Qasim. The defender has been at the club since 2001 and provides a rock solid presence at the back. Injury has hindered his progress this season, but the veteran should be back in time to provide a calming presence in defence.
Player to watch? Hosni Abdul Rabo. An Egyptian who plays in the heart of the midfield, Rabo will be tasked with breaking up the opposition attacks and providing a platform for the more creative players on the field. His time with Strasbourg in France may provide him with the experience needed to make a difference.
Prediction? Play-off losers.

Pohang Steelers
GettyImagesPohang Steelers celebrate their title win.

Pohang Steelers (South Korea; Asia/AFC)
Who are they? Fighting against the domination of the Japanese clubs, Pohang have emerged as genuine contenders in Asia and picked up the 2009 Asian Champions League, adding to an impressive title haul. Four-times domestic champions, they appear to be back on track after a seven-year period from 1998 where they failed to win any silverware at all. Led by Brazilian Sérgio Farias, who has turned the side around in his four years in charge, the work ethic of the side is bound to stand them in good stead.
Captain? Hwang Jae-Won. A commanding centre-back, the South Korea international will provide solidity in the ranks. His off-pitch actions have caught the eye though, as he was dragged through the press when caught up in a sex scandal with a former Miss Korea in 2008, after he was alleged to have asked her to have an abortion.
Player to watch? Denilson. The 33-year-old Brazilian striker has been around the block but is now the main man for Pohang. His arrival at the club has reinvigourated the side and his goals will fire the side into contention. Watch out for an unusual goal celebration too.
Prediction? Semi-finalists.

TP Mazembe (DR Congo; Africa/CAF)
Who are they? First known as TP Englebert, they were founded by Bendictine monks in 1939 and went on to become one of the leading lights of the continent. One of the lesser known sides, they have a rich history, mostly in the 1960s, when they became the first team to retain the African Cup of Champions in '67 and '68. French boss Diego Garzitto's side won the CAF Champions League against Heartland FC to make the competition, but few will expect them to make much of an impact.
Captain? Tresor Mputu Mabi. Having joined the club in 2003, he scored seven goals in the run-up to their Champions League conquest. Picked as the league's Most Valuable Player, he has turned down various European offers to focus on his club, but will most likely make a move if his performances catch the scouts' eyes.
Player to watch? Kaluyituka Dioko. The midfielder finished as top scorer in the 2009 Champions League with eight goals, including a hat-trick in the 5-0 massacre of Zimbabwe's Monomotapa. His goalscoring will be important if the African side are to progress.
Prediction? Quarter-finalists.