Fifa Club World Cup 2023: Players to watch, team profiles and how they qualified

Hosts Al Ittihad kick off their campaign with a match against OFC Champions League holders Auckland City in Jeddah on Tuesday

Al Ittihad captain Karim Benzema is a five-time winner of the Fifa Club World Cup during his time at Real Madrid. Getty
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Beginning Tuesday, Saudi Arabia will for the first time host the Fifa Club World Cup, with the kingdom represented at the seven-team tournament in Jeddah by Saudi Pro League champions Al Ittihad.

Current Uefa Champions League holders Manchester City debut at the tournament, alongside the likes of Egyptian giants Al Ahly and South American counterparts Fluminense.

Al Ittihad (Saudi Arabia)

How they qualified: 2022/23 Saudi Pro League winners

With the host nation always represented by its reigning champion, the Jeddah side booked their spot at the home event by capturing a first Saudi top-flight in 14 years. Ittihad pipped to the title Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al Nassr with one match to spare.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 1

Ittihad competed in the tournament in Japan 2005, where they saw off Egypt’s Al Ahly to reach the semi-final. They then lost a dramatic last-four encounter with Brazil’s Sao Paulo, when they were beaten 3-2.

Manager: Marcelo Gallardo

The renowned Argentine had carved an incredible coaching career with boyhood club River Plate, winning 14 trophies during an eight-year spell. As most South Americans do, Gallardo clearly cherishes the Club World Cup; in 2015, he went oh so close to winning, only to lose the final in Japan to Barcelona. Appointed Ittihad manager just last month – even still, the pressure will be on to guide his new side to a strong showing on home soil.

Key player: Karim Benzema

The high-profile signing that sparked an unprecedented summer transfer window for the Saudi Pro League – of course, Ronaldo laid the foundations last December – the 2022 Ballon d’Or winner has enjoyed Club World Cup success, too. With Real Madrid, Benzema lifted the trophy five times, including twice in Abu Dhabi (2017, 2018). Has four goals thus far in the competition, with one coming in each of the 2016 and 2022 finals.

Manchester City (England)

How they qualified: 2022/23 Uefa Champions League winners

Already the English Premier League champions and FA Cup winners, the Manchester side emulated the class of 1999 across at neighbours United by completing the treble, when they defeated Inter Mian 1-0 in the final in Istanbul – the club’s first Champions League success.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 0

Manager: Pep Guardiola

Not only has the Spaniard won practically everything during his seven-year tenure with City – 13 major trophies and counting – but he has sampled success in the Club World Cup already as well. Guardiola led Barcelona to the intercontinental title in 2009 and 2011, the first coming in Abu Dhabi to give the Catalan club a record six trophies in a calendar year.

Key player: Erling Haaland

An immediate success following last year’s move from Borussia Dortmund, the prolific Norwegian set about breaking a plethora of records, spanning both the Premier League and Champions League. Was top scorer in the English top-flight, scoring a Premier League record 36 goals in 35 appearances. Led the way in the Champions League, too, with 12 goals. Last month, Haaland became the fastest player to 50 Premier League goals – it took him only 48 matches.

Fluminense (Brazil)

How they qualified: 2023 Copa Libertadores winners

Were the final team to book their spot at the Club World Cup when last month they defeated Boca Juniors 2-1 after extra-time in a dramatic final that saw a player from both sides sent off. In beating the six-time South American champions, Fluminense captured the continental trophy for the first time.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 0

Manager: Fernando Diniz

In his second stint at the club he represented as a player, the Brazilian earned his place in Fluminense folklore by delivering the most prestigious trophy in South American club football. His exploits domestically garnered attention on the international stage, too, with Diniz appointed interim coach of the Brazil national team in July. Given his preference for playing “Tiki-taka” football, he has been dubbed the “Brazilian Guardiola”.

Key player: German Cano

An Argentine at the heart of the Brazilian club’s recent success, the striker has been a revelation since joining in December 2021. Not only has Cano netted 59 goals in 95 league appearances, but he fired Fluminense to that historic Copa Libertadores crown. His 13 goals sealed the Golden Boot, with Cano scoring three in the quarter-finals, three in the semis, and the opener in the final.

Al Ahly (Egypt)

How they qualified: 2022/23 Caf Champions League winners

A late equaliser in the second leg of the final secured a 1-1 draw with Morocco’s Wydad Casablanca to give a 3-2 aggregate victory. In winning, the Egyptian heavyweights won Africa’s premier club prize for a record-extending 11th time.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 8

The Cairo club’s best performances came in 2006, 2020 and 2021, when they finished third. They lost the 2021 semi-final, in Abu Dhabi, to Brazil’s Palmeiras.

Manager: Marcelo Koller

Considered a club legend as a long-serving player for Grasshoppers Zurich, the Swiss has enjoyed plenty of success since taking charge of Ahly in September last year. In that time, Koller guided his side to the Egyptian Super Cup title twice – the first was won in Al Ain – the Egypt Cup, the African Champions League, and then the 2022/23 Egyptian Premier League trophy – where they were defeated only once.

Key player: Percy Tau

Work-permit issues scuppered the South African forward’s time at Brighton where, although he eventually made three Premier League appearances, spent the vast majority of his three years out on loan. Having signed for Ahly in the summer of 2021, was pivotal to the Champions League success, scoring five goals, including one in each of the semi-final and final. In the showpiece, Tau set Ahly on their way to continental glory, notching the opener in the 2-1 first-leg win against Wydad.

Urawa Red Diamonds (Japan)

How they qualified: 2022 Asian Champions League winners

The Japanese side were crowned continental champions for a third time having come through a two-legged final against record winners Al Hilal 2-1 on aggregate. Urawa followed the 1-1 draw in Riyadh with a single-goal victory in the return – sealed by an own goal from Hilal's Andre Carillo.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 2

Urawa finished third on debut, and on home soil, in 2007, when they were knocked out in the semi-final by AC Milan. A decade later, in the UAE, they lost their second-round tie against hosts Al Jazira in Abu Dhabi.

Manager: Maciej Skorza

This Club World Cup marks a strange one for the Pole, whose departure as Urawa manager was confirmed last month. Even with Per-Mathias Hogmo announced as his replacement, Skorza will take charge for however long their stay in Jeddah lasts. Was appointed Urawa manager 13 months ago, when the side had already sealed a place in the Champions League final. However, should be celebrated for delivering the trophy for the first time in five years.

Key player: Atsuki Ito

Capable of playing at centre-back or as a defensive midfielder, it’s in the latter position that the Japan international has excelled for Urawa. Ito began his professional career with the club before spending three years at university, then returned to Urawa in 2021. Since, he's help his side to the Emperor’s Cup, the Japanese Super Cup and the Champions League. Deservedly named in the J League’s Best XI for 2023 as Urawa finished fourth.

Club Leon (Mexico)

How they qualified: 2023 Concacaf Champions League winners

The Mexican club, runners-up 30 years previously in their only other final appearance, made history by defeating Los Angeles FC 3-1 on aggregate to claim a first Champions League title. Triumphed 2-1 at home in the first leg, before landing the trophy thanks to a 1-0 win in the US.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 0

Manager: Nicolas Larcamon

Forced to retire from playing professionally at 22, the Argentine first focused on his studies until coaching became his true calling. Giving up architecture, Larcamon entered the managerial game at youth level aged 25 and held senior positions in Venezuela, Chile and Mexico. Installed as Leon manager in November last year, etching his name in the club’s history books by leading them to a first continental success. From footballing stock: both his father and uncle played professionally in Argentina.

Key player: Fidel Ambriz

While top scorer Victor Davila’s incredible Champions League display earned him a move to CSKA Moscow, his now-former teammate continues to be integral to the club. At 20 years and one month, Ambriz became the youngest goalscorer in the 2023 competition when he netted in the second leg of the semi-finals against fellow Mexican side Tigres. The defensive midfielder, who appeared in seven Champions League matches, was later named the tournament's best young player.

Auckland City FC (New Zealand)

How they qualified: 2023 OFC Champions League winners

The Club World Cup stalwarts are back in the tournament courtesy of yet another continental victory, when they defeated Fiji’s Suva 4-2 after extra-time to successfully defend the trophy. In doing so, they lifted it for a record 11th time.

Previous Club World Cup participations: 10

The New Zealanders hold the record for Club World Cup appearances – Ahly sit second – having debuted in 2006. In 2014, they created one of the greatest upsets in tournament history when they saw off Cruz Azul on penalties in Morocco to take third place.

Manager: Albert Riera

Hugely successful across two spells as a midfielder with Auckland – one league title, three Champions League crowns – the Spaniard returned in December 2021 to try to emulate at least some of that from the dugout. Riera started his coaching career as an assistant at West Coast Rangers but, having been promoted to manager, could not prevent the club from being relegated from New Zealand’s top tier. Considered a club legend at Auckland.

Key player: Cameron Howieson

With no obvious weaknesses to his game, the all-action attacking midfielder creates goals, scores, and keeps his side ticking. Howieson began his professional career in England with Burnley in 2012, then spent time with Doncaster and Scotland’s St Mirren before returning to New Zealand seven years ago. Has played in two Club World Cups. A New Zealand international despite being eligible to represent Scotland, England and Samoa.

Updated: December 11, 2023, 7:12 AM