x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Destination Abu Dhabi for Club World Cup hopefuls

To look into the backstories of the football sides who may have 'Abu Dhabi' on their December itineraries is to discover that the Fifa Club World Cup will be even more fun than we already expect it to be.

Inter Milan won the European Champions League and thereby qualified for the Club World Cup in December. Italian club even though they may be, they have more non-Italians than natives in their starting line-up – almost as if they have taken the ‘international’ in their name too seriously.
Inter Milan won the European Champions League and thereby qualified for the Club World Cup in December. Italian club even though they may be, they have more non-Italians than natives in their starting line-up – almost as if they have taken the ‘international’ in their name too seriously.

To look into the backstories of the football sides who may have "Abu Dhabi" on their December itineraries is to discover that the Fifa Club World Cup will be even more fun than we already expect it to be.

One potential participating club is owned by the World Unification Church, sometimes known as "the Moonies". To suggest that the church founder Sun Myung Moon (perhaps best-known globally for performing mass weddings of up to 30,000 couples) is controversial is an understatement on the order of suggesting Jose Mourinho is mildly impressed with himself as a coach.

Coincidentally, one potential Club World Cup team is coached by "the Mourinho of the Congo". A second is coached by "the Mourinho of north Africa". A third is coached by "the man who replaced Mourinho". "The Special One" apparently is a universal point of reference for supporters during their giddier moments.

The world may be shrinking, in our electronic age, but it remains an impossibly big planet for those who aspire to be experts on the top club sides of six continents. The seventh continent, mercifully, is covered by ice, though Fifa might recognise an Antarctica Confederation if the scientists down there formed a half-dozen clubs and struck a TV deal.

Five sides have secured places in the Club World Cup: Inter Milan of Italy, Internacional of Brazil, Pachuca of Mexico, Hekari United of Papua New Guinea and Al Wahda of the host UAE Pro League.

Inter need little introduction, even to Italians who may not appreciate the club taking the "international" in their name too much to heart. In their most recent match, the 3-1 spanking at the hands of Tottenham Hotspur, Rafa Benitez, the coach, started one Italian and 10 non-Italians. Or the same ratio of Italians-to-others as our own Al Ahli manages when Fabio Cannavaro is healthy and/or not suspended.

Internacional might want to modify their name while here to "Inter Brazil", just for clarity's sake. Though Inter Milan boast nearly as many Brazilians as do Inter Brazil. If the two reach the December 18 final, as expected, the match possibly will represent the largest assemblage of Brazilians in the history of the UAE. And those will be just the players on the pitch.

Pachuca is the oldest club in Mexico, founded in 1901 by emigrant Cornish miners, which sounds quite dreary, both the idea of the mine and the notion that the Cornishmen had to go all the way to Mexico to find one they liked. "We're above ground, lads! Fancy a kick-around?"

Wahda are a known quantity locally, though you are forgiven if you have lost track of their coaching changes. At press time, it was still Josef Hickersberger, and will be right through the Club World Cup, unless he loses to Hekari United in the debut match on December 8.

Four teams are contesting the final two berths, to be sorted out next Saturday.

In Africa, TP Mazembe of Congo DP may be excused if they already have booked flights to these shores, given that they routed Esperance of Tunisia 5-0 in the first leg of the Africa final.

The "TP" in Mazembe stands for "Tout Puissant" which translates from the French to "All Powerful". The club do not lack for confidence, perhaps because of their political connections. Wrote Fifa.com: "Mazembe have had their fortunes dramatically revived in recent years by the patronage of Moise Katumbi, the governor from their mineral-rich province of Katanga and the club's president. His passion for the team and the corresponding return of Les Corbeaux (The Crows) are seen as closely linked to his political success."

The club are playing without their captain, Tresor Mputu, who won himself a one-year suspension from all football activities after "attempting an attack on a referee" during a tournament in Rwanda. Even by African club standards, a one-year ban is impressive.

Esperance can still visit us; all they require is a six-goal victory in their home stadium. Their 5-0 debacle in the Congolese city of Lumbubashi was perhaps fitting, given that the Tunisian club eliminated the popular Egyptian side Al Ahly in the semi-finals on the strength of a handball goal by Michael Eneramo, a violation seen by everyone in Tunis aside from the referee and his assistants.

The Asian clubs will sort things out in a one-match date in Tokyo.

Zob Ahan are attempting to change their reputation as "Isfahan's second-best club", the Man City to Sepahan's United. They will collide with Seongnam, the Unification Church club. No word yet if Reverend Moon will attend and attempt to marry everyone in the stadium.

 

poberjuerge@thenational.ae