Fifa Club World Cup draw: Al Ittihad and Manchester City can only meet in final

Saudi champions will need to get past Auckland City and the Copa Libertadores champions before the prospect of facing the Uefa Champions League holders

Karim Benzema will lead Al Ittihad in their Fifa Club World Cup campaign in Jeddah. AFP
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Al Ittihad will have to wait until the final of the Fifa Club World Cup if they are to meet Manchester City in Saudi Arabia later this year, after the draw was made in Jeddah on Tuesday.

The Saudi Pro League champions, making their second appearance in the tournament and first since 2005, open the December 12-22 event in the kingdom's second city with a play-off against New Zealand’s Auckland City.

Should they advance, Ittihad will meet in the second round Egyptian giants Al Ahly, the reigning African champions, with the winner then facing the 2023 Copa Libertadores champions in the semi-final.

The tournament’s South American representative - the Copa Libertadores is currently at its semi-final stage - will not be decided until November 4. Brazilian trio Palmeiras, Fluminense and Internacional, and Argentina’s Boca Juniors, make up the last four.

City possibly await in the Club World Cup showpiece on December 22, although the current Premier League and Uefa Champions League holders would first have to get past either Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan or Mexico’s Club Leon, recent winners of the Concacaf Champions League.

City, treble winners last season, enter at the semi-final stage in Jeddah, when they will debut in the tournament. Manager Pep Guardiola is seeking to become the first coach to win the trophy four times having previously guided Barcelona and Bayern Munich to the title.

Speaking on the sidelines of Tuesday’s draw, Fifa president Gianni Infantino told Saudi broadcaster SSC: “We just had a great draw in what will be the best Fifa Club World Cup ever. The best because the organisation will be fantastic, because the teams are great, we will see some exciting games, some debutants like, believe it or not Manchester City, who will play for the first time in the Fifa Club World Cup.

“And teams who have played many, many times; Auckland City is the record team with 11 appearances. We have Al Ahly, Al Ittihad, Urawa Reds and Club Leon as well from Mexico, playing for the first time.

“And we’ll have a South American team from Brazil or Argentina; we’ll know it at the beginning of November. So exciting games, great tournament, great competition, fantastic, fantastic club football. That’s what the fans love, and we’re here for it.”

Taking place for the first time in Saudi Arabia, the Club World Cup is a seven-team competition featuring the champions of the six continental confederations, together with the host country’s domestic champions.

This year’s event will be the final in its current format before the Club World Cup expands to a 32-team tournament in 2025.

Club World Cup 2022 final - in pictures

“I’m sure the tournament is going to inspire many, many people in Saudi Arabia and in the whole region,” Infantino added. “We just witnessed the best ever World Cup in Qatar a few months ago, and this Club World Cup is going exactly in that same direction.

“We want the best to play everywhere in the world - they play in Saudi Arabia now; they play in other countries - because we need everyone to be developing and boosting the game.

“I’m sure that boys and girls in Saudi Arabia will enjoy these games, these matches, enjoy seeing these champions, will be inspired by them and they will continue to make the game grow in Saudi Arabia, in the region and all over the world.”

On Saudi’s famed football supporters, Infantino added: “It’s fantastic when you see the passion. I’ve been to many games in Saudi Arabia, seen the teams, witnessed the World Cup win against Argentina [last November].

“The emotion, the passion is what only football can give. In Saudi Arabia, and the whole of the region, it is very, very special. It’s good to have these feelings – this is what football is about, what club football is all about.”

Updated: September 05, 2023, 3:06 PM