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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 18 January 2019

Fifa Club World Cup UAE 2018: Team-by-team guide and seven players to watch

The tournament takes place in the UAE for a second straight year and will begin with a play-off between Al Ain and Team Wellington on Wednesday

Luka Modric, right, arrives in the UAE for the Fifa Club World Cup as the newly-crowned Ballon d'Or winner. EPA
Luka Modric, right, arrives in the UAE for the Fifa Club World Cup as the newly-crowned Ballon d'Or winner. EPA

Al Ain

Manager: Zoran Mamic

How they qualified: Arabian Gulf League (host league) winners

Previous appearances (best result): Debut

Player to watch: Marcus Berg (striker). The Sweden international was integral in Al Ain’s title-winning campaign which earned the club their place at the Club World Cup, scoring 25 goals in his debut season. Berg continues to score with regular frequency, his 10 goals in 11 matches helping Al Ain to second-place in the current AGL standings, behind leaders Sharjah on goal difference. Berg, 32, also led the line for Sweden at the 2018 World Cup as they reached the quarter-finals. His goals and presence up front will be key to Al Ain’s Club World Cup ambitions.

Real Madrid

Manager: Santi Solari

How they qualified: Uefa Champions League winners

Previous appearances: 4 (Champions 2014, 2016, 2017)

Player to watch: Luka Modric (midfielder). The first player not named Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to etch his name onto the Ballon d’Or trophy in 10 years. Few would argue it was not deserved as Modric helped Real Madrid to an unprecedented third successive Champions League title before guiding Croatia to the World Cup final. Modric, 33, continues to run the Madrid midfield alongside Toni Kroos, and his ability to dictate tempo, retain possession, and create chances make him central to Madrid’s hopes of a historic third straight Club World Cup title.

River Plate

Manager: Marcelo Gallardo

How they qualified: Copa Libertadores winners

Previous appearances: 1 (Runner-up 2015)

Player to watch: Exequiel Palacios (midfielder). River Plate’s attacking midfielder is the most exciting youngster playing in Argentina. Though he didn’t play the starring role of substitute Juan Fernando Quintero in Sunday’s Copa Libertadores final against rivals Boca Juniors, Palacios played well enough and was integral to his side’s opening goal. The game was played in the Bernabeu – where Palacios is likely to return as a Real Madrid player. Though River fans are desperate for him to stay, they are used to losing their best talents to richer European clubs. Palacios, from Tucuman, north west Argentina, rose through River’s youth system, making his first-team debut in 2015 and excelling so much that he made his full Argentina debut in September’s 3-0 win against Guatamala.

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Read more:

Ian Hawkey: Across continents, Juan Quintero's revival mirrors that of River Plate's

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Kashima Antlers

Manager: Go Oiwa

How they qualified: Asian Champions League winners

Previous appearances: 1 (Runner-up 2016)

Player to watch: Yuma Suzuki (Striker). Crowned the Asian Champions League’s Most Valuable Player, 22-year-old Suzuki may have only scored two goals in the tournament, but provided the ideal foil for striker partner Serginho. Suzuki, however, was Kashima’s top-scorer in the recently-concluded J-League, his 11 goal in 30 appearances helping his club to third. Suzuki's form, which was also rewarded with second-place in the AFC Player of the Year award, earned him his first call-up to the Japan squad but an ankle injury delayed his debut. A strong showing at the Club World Cup will boost his national team chances ahead of the 2019 Asian Cup, also held in the UAE.

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Read more:

Mohamed Khalfan Al Romaithi: We are thrilled to welcome the world to Abu Dhabi for Fifa Club World Cup

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Esperance de Tunis

Manager: Moine Chaabani

How they qualified: CAF Champions League winners

Previous appearances: 1 (Quarter-final 2011)

Player to watch: Anice Badri (Forward). The CAF Champions League's top-scorer with eight goals, Badri scored the all-important goal in the final's second leg to earn Esperance their third continental crown. Played in all three of Tunisia's matches at the 2018 World Cup, starting the games against England and Belgium. Badri, 28, can be deployed either as an attacking midfielder or forward, and will play a key role in Esperance's hopes of reaching the Club World Cup semi-finals and beyond.

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Esperance and Guadalajara arrive in Abu Dhabi

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Guadalajara

Manager: Jose Cardozo

How they qualified: Concacaf Champions League winners

Previous appearances: Debut

Player to watch: Isaac Brizuela (Winger). Brizuela was one of six Guadalajara players named in the Concacaf Champions League's best XI for 2018, but only he and defender Edwin Hernandez remain as part of the squad for the Club World Cup. Brizuela is capable of scoring goals but is far from prolific - instead he offers pace and width from the right wing where he creates chances for teammate. He has been capped 13 times by Mexico.

Team Wellington

Manager: Jose Figueira

How they qualified: OFC Champions League winners

Previous appearances: Debut

Player to watch: Hamish Watson (Striker). Now in his third spell at Team Wellington having signed from A-League club Wellington Phoenix in January, Watson currently leads the New Zealand Premiership's Golden Boot standings with eight goals in as many games. A 6ft 2in target man, Watson's career has also taken him to England where he spent a brief spell at Grimsby Town and on loan at Gainsborough Trinity. He will be looking to carry his domestic form on to the world stage when Wellington take on Al Ain in the Club World Cup play-off on Wednesday.

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Read more:

In pictures: Esperance de Tunis and Guadalajara greeted by fans after arriving in Abu Dhabi

Zoran Mamic: Playing in the Fifa Club World Cup a once in a lifetime opportunity for Al Ain

Craig Henderson: Former Team Wellington star backs old club to make most of Fifa Club World Cup in UAE

Fifa Club World Cup: The five best matches from past UAE tournaments

Updated: December 12, 2018 11:35 AM

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