Karim Benzema hails fans and vows Al Ittihad will fight to go far at the Club World Cup

Frenchman on target in 3-0 win over Auckland City that sets up second-round match against African champions Al Ahly

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Karim Benzema paid tribute to Al Ittihad’s fans following his history-making goal in the Fifa Club World Cup opener on Tuesday, saying his team will “fight” to go as far as they can in the competition.

The Ittihad captain, a five-time winner of the tournament with Real Madrid, scored the third goal in the hosts’ 3-0 victory against Auckland City in Jeddah as the Club World Cup took place in Saudi Arabia for the first time.

In netting, Benzema became the first player to score in four editions of the competition. After Romarinho sent Ittihad on their way at a sell-out King Abdullah Sports City, and former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante soon doubled the home side’s lead, Benzema then completed the scoring four minutes before half time.

The Frenchman, signed in June, finished off a lovely, sweeping move to book Ittihad's spot in the second round on Friday against African champions Al Ahly.

Asked afterwards about entering the record books yet again, Benzema said: “I’m happy, but the most important was the victory. I was happy because it is very important for us to play well in front of the fans.

"The atmosphere was very nice, so we’re happy, and I’m happy to score. But the most important was to win.”

The build-up to the game had been all about Ittihad’s place in a home Club World Cup as Saudi’s representatives in the kingdom’s debut staging of the tournament. The Jeddah side qualified for the event by winning last season's Saudi Pro League.

However, defeat on Tuesday night to Oceania champions Auckland, record 11-time participants from New Zealand, would have meant Ittihad could not progress, leaving them with only fifth place to play for in the seven-team tournament.

But Benzema said: “No pressure. Because, in football, the pressure is there already. So it’s not to put more pressure, because we have it already. It’s just go out, look at the fans, and you are ready.”

On how much belief Ittihad will take from the result going into the match against Egypt’s Ahly – the winner will meet Brazil’s Fluminense in the semi-final next week – Benzema said: “We are confident.

“We play in front of our fans, so we are ready. Game by game, for us it’s a final, so let’s fight and let’s see what happens.”

Benzema, who lifted the Club World Cup with Madrid in 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and again last year, said it would be special to repeat the feat with his current side.

“It makes history,” he said. “So it’s important for me, but for us for the country, for the city, for everybody.”

Updated: December 13, 2023, 6:14 AM