Real Madrid braced for 'difficult' Club World Cup in UAE ahead of bid for third straight title
European champions are aiming to become the first side to win three successive world titles in December
Defending champions Real Madrid say they will not to take anything for granted at this year's Fifa Club World Cup in the UAE, after their path to retaining the title became clearer in Switzerland on Tuesday.
The three-time champions, winners the past two years, enter the December 12-22 event once more at the semi-final stage, with the draw at Fifa’s headquarters in Zurich pitting them against either Mexican side Guadalajara, the current Concacaf champions, or the eventual winners of the Asian Champions League.
Host representatives Al Ain sit in the opposite side of the draw. They will face Madrid only if they make it to the final at Abu Dhabi’s Zayed Sports City.
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The UAE champions open the tournament in a play-off against Oceania counterparts Team Wellington of New Zealand and, should they come through that, they take on the eventual winners of the African Champions League.
Both those matches will be played at Al Ain’s Hazza bin Zayed Stadium. The winners of South America’s Copa Libertadores, which will be decided on November 28, wait in the last four.
Having last year become the first club to successfully defend the Club World Cup, Madrid have set sights on extending that record in the Emirates. In 2016, they defeated Japan’s Kashima Antlers in extra-time in Yokohama to clinch the trophy for the second time in three years.
“This is a difficult competition,” Emilio Butragueno, the former Madrid player who now serves as club director, told The National at Tuesday’s draw. “Football is unpredictable, football is difficult; everything is very even nowadays. So we will have to wait to see who we meet.
"Guadalajara have a lot of tradition in Mexico and America. Regarding the Asian team, we know how competitive they are. Two years ago, we played the final against the Asian champion and it was a very difficult game. Everything is going to be very open.”
Butragueno said Madrid’s familiarity with the UAE capital provides a “positive point” in their quest to hold on to the trophy. However, he played down the fact that, by triumphing again, they would move ahead of Spanish rivals Barcelona as the record winners of Club World Cup, with four titles.
When asked if that increased the club's motivation, Butragueno said: “Not really. We try to win every time. That’s our motivation, because our history is very rich. On one side it’s a privilege, on the other it’s a responsibility. So our players are aware about this.
“Every time they play with that jersey and that emblem, they are aware that millions of people all around the world are watching the game hoping they are going to win. And that, as I said, is a privilege and a responsibility, but at the same time it’s an honour to fight for a title when so many people are backing you.
“Last year was really very important. Of course we’ll do our best to win again, although we are aware of all the difficulties we will face.”
The remaining three clubs in the seven-team event will be decided in November. South American giants Boca Juniors, River Plate, Independiente and Gremio - last year’s Club World Cup runners-up - remain in the hunt for a place, while in the African Champions League, Arab sides make up five of the eight quarter-final slots.
“If one wins that you guarantee an Arabic team in the Club World Cup semi-final, so there are a lot of opportunities presented by that draw,” said Aref Al Awani, tournament director of the Local Organising Committee. “It will create good promotion from now for the tournament, a good expectation of who will meet and play each other. So from our side we’re happy.
“It’s a fortunate draw for us. We have the chance for Al Ain to play four games at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium, and avoiding Real Madrid is very important for any team if they want to reach the final. With all respect to the other teams, and the strength of the others, nobody wants to meet Real Madrid before the final.”
Updated: September 4, 2018 07:02 PM