Former Real Madrid striker Fernando Morientes says this year’s Fifa Club World Cup will provide Al Jazira players the opportunity to put themselves in the shop window for European clubs.
The UAE champions contest the inter-continental club competition, which also features European champions Madrid, in the UAE in December courtesy of last season's march to the 2016/17 Arabian Gulf League title.
The Club World Cup, a seven-team tournament comprising the six continental club champions and a team from the host country, takes place in Abu Dhabi and Al Ain from December 6-16. Mexico’s Pachuca FC and New Zealand’s Auckland City are the other two sides confirmed thus far.
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As the home representative, Jazira enter at the play-off stage, where they face Auckland at the Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on December 6 for a place in the quarter-finals. Madrid, the defending champions, join at the semi-final stage.
Given the presence of the reigning European champions, the tournament is sure to attract plenty of attention. Morientes says Jazira’s players should therefore try to use the competition as a platform to securing a transfer to Europe. Until now, no Emirati has played permanently for a professional European club.
“Such an event always has plenty of scouting taking place in the country where it is held, so this gives the chance to the players, especially at Al Jazira, that everyone can see them,” said Morientes, who was in the capital on Monday as a guest of the Abu Dhabi Sports Council. “For them, this is a great opportunity and could open a door or a window to eventually play in Europe, which would be the best thing for them.”
The UAE has staged the Club World Cup twice before, in 2009 and 2010. Morientes, who featured in the 2000 and 2005 editions for Madrid and Liverpool respectively, knows well the tournament and believes it offers the UAE another stage to showcase its ability to host major international events.
“The Club World Cup is definitely one of the biggest sporting events in the world this year,” Morientes said. “This gives Abu Dhabi the opportunity to show the world their capacity to host such events. Of course, it is a challenge, but it is a great opportunity to open the UAE and Abu Dhabi to the world, and show how they can host such big events.”
Morientes represented Madrid for eight years from 1997, winning a host of trophies including the Uefa Champions League three times. He failed to lift the Club World Cup, though, losing with Madrid in the third place play-off in 2000 and then beaten while at Liverpool in the final five years later.
“Playing this Club World Cup, if you win it, you are declared the best team in the world,” the Spaniard said. “It is the highest accolade a club team can get. For Spanish and European teams, winning the Champions League is of course the most important tournament to have.
“But, having said that, having the chance to play against South American teams, Asian teams and other places makes this competition very special. It gives you the chance to be nominated as the best team in the world, which is special.”