Al Ain striker Marcus Berg says his side must forget about next week’s Fifa Club World Cup debut and focus solely on kicking off their President’s Cup defence on Friday with a victory.
The UAE champions, double winners last season, begin their bid to keep hold of the trophy against Al Wasl at Al Nahyan Stadium in Abu Dhabi – a rerun of May's final in which Al Ain prevailed 2-1.
The Round of 16 encounter comes five days before Zoran Mamic's men make their Club World Cup bow. As host representatives, Al Ain get the tournament under way against New Zealand's Team Wellington, the Oceania champions, at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on Wednesday.
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The winners will then meet African champions Esperance de Tunis in the quarter-finals. Real Madrid, Club World Cup champions the past two years, enter the tournament at the last-four stage.
However, despite the excitement building for next week, Sweden international Berg insists he is concentrated only on Friday’s clash with Wasl.
Speaking after he scored the opener in Monday's league encounter against the same opponents, the in-form frontman said: “First we have Al Wasl again in the President’s Cup – it will be another tough game.
“Only after that we will focus on the Club World Cup, which will be a very nice experience for us. We are playing better and better, we’re taking important wins, so we’re ready for these games coming up now.”
Asked if it was difficult to put thoughts of the Club World Cup to one side for now, Berg replied: “No, not for me. And I don’t think for the team also. We focus on right now and try to win the games that are the most important, and then we will take it step by step. Now it’s the President’s Cup, and then the Club World Cup.
“I don’t really know about Team Wellington; I haven’t focused that much on them. For sure, they are a good team, so we have to be 100 per cent to win the game and try to make it as far as possible. Of course we want to go far in the Club World Cup. It will be tough games, but like I said, we are ready.”
Al Ain defeated Wasl 3-1 at Zabeel Stadium to draw level again with Sharjah at the top of the Arabian Gulf League. This year’s title race is tight as the competition reaches its halfway stage, with Al Jazira able to join the duo on 28 points should they defeat Al Dhafra on Tuesday.
Shabab Al Ahli Club, meanwhile, sit fourth having recovered from a poor start to thrive under new manager Rodolfo Arruabarrena.
“We knew from the beginning of the season we would have a tough schedule, especially with the Club World Cup,” said Berg, who has 10 goals in 11 league appearances. “Then there’s the Asian Cup [January 5-February 1], where we have a lot of national team players, so it will be a tough season.
“But we have to focus on the big, big tournaments where we have a good chance and, for sure, the league is crucial for us to win because we are champions. We try to win every game, but with that schedule we have after the winter break it will be very difficult.”
From February, Al Ain will contest the 2019 Asian Champions League. The 2003 winners have been drawn in Group C alongside Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal, Qatar’s Al Duhail and Iran’s Esteghlal.