Fabinho hopes Al Ittihad can continue Club World Cup journey - and avoid Manchester City

Brazil midfielder and his Saudi side could potentially face City in the final - but first they must overcome Al Ahly to reach semis

Al Ittihad midfielder Fabinho knows only too well the qualities of Manchester City from his five-year stay at Liverpool. Getty
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Al Ittihad midfielder Fabinho says the hosts’ fervent support could prove decisive in their bid to reach the Fifa Club World Cup final – although he joked he does not want to meet old rivals Manchester City in the showpiece.

The former Liverpool star, who made the move to Saudi Arabia in July, was integral to Ittihad’s 3-0 victory in the tournament opener against Auckland City on Tuesday night in Jeddah. The kingdom is staging the Club World Cup for the first time.

The win set up a highly anticipated, second-round clash on Friday with African champions Al Ahly, where the teams will meet at another sold-out King Abdullah Sports City for a place in the semi-final.

That will take place on Monday against recent Copa Libertadores champions Fluminense, with the carrot of a potential final against 2022/23 treble winners City to come on December 22.

Having witnessed incredible support from more than 50,000 fans in the opening match, Fabinho is relying on that support once more as Ittihad look to become only the second Saudi side to make the Club World Cup final.

“It’s really important to play at home, to play with our fans,” the Brazil international, winner with Liverpool in 2019, said. “We could see [against Auckland] how good they are, how loud they are.

“So, yes, this is a little advantage we will try to use in the next game and hopefully to the end of the competition as well.

“We have to try and prepare in the best conditions to play against Ahly. We know they are a good team, they are used to playing this competition [this marks their 10th appearance], so it will be tough, be hard, but we have to prepare well.”

Like Fluminense, City enter the tournament at the semi-final stage, where on Tuesday they take on the winner of Friday’s encounter between Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds and Concacaf counterparts Club Leon.

For Fabinho, though, he would prefer not to meet Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering side. City represented Liverpool’s main rivals during the majority of his successful five-stay at Anfield.

“I want to be in the final, first of all,” he said. “To be honest, I don’t want to play against Man City, because I know how good they are.

“But if we can reach the final this would be really special for us, for the club and for the country as well.”

Fabinho, 30, has clearly still kept an eye on his former employers despite the transfer to the Saudi champions. He won a number of trophies with the English club, including the 2019/19 Uefa Champions League and the Premier League the following season.

At present, Liverpool sit top of the 2023/24 table, one point clear of second-placed Arsenal after 16 matches. Aston Villa are a further point back in third, with City one spot below, four points off the summit.

“I’m really happy for the guys,” Fabinho said. “At the moment they are top of the league. Of course, there’s still much to play still in this competition. There are some clubs next to them, like Arsenal, City, even Villa are doing well really well this season.

“As I said, there is much to play in the competition, but it’s always good to be at the top. You have to try to be always top of the league, winning games; Liverpool are doing this now.

“They have now found a way to win, they are finding goals after the 90 minutes, and this is really good. This shows their mentality, this shows how good they are. And they are really focused on trying to win the Premier League.”

Asked about the possibility of former teammate Mohamed Salah joining him at Ittihad – Salah was reportedly subject of a huge bid to bring him to the club in September – Fabinho said: "At this moment, Mo Salah is happy at Liverpool. He's scoring goals every game, as usual he’s been their best player. So I'm very happy for Mo.

“This season he will stay at Liverpool, so I wish him all the best and that he keeps scoring goals and winning trophies with Liverpool.”

Updated: December 14, 2023, 11:01 AM