Fabinho confident Al Ittihad will bounce back from Club World Cup disappointment

Brazil midfielder targets silverware in wake of their 3-1 second round loss to African champions Al Ahly

Al Ittihad's N'Golo Kante and Fabinho, right, react after Al Ahly's Hussein El-Shahat scores their second goal. Reuters
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Al Ittihad’s Fabinho said the hosts have no excuses for their Fifa Club World Cup exit to Al Ahly on Friday, but vowed to focus on still delivering silverware to the team's fans this season.

Ittihad, the home representatives as the tournament was staged in Saudi Arabia for the first time, were beaten 3-1 by their Egyptian counterparts at a sell-out King Abdullah Sports City in Jeddah.

The Saudi champions, who opened with a comfortable 3-0 victory on Tuesday against New Zealand's Auckland City, were left to rue Karim Benzema’s saved penalty at the end of the first half, which would have levelled the scores.

However, Ahly struck twice in three second-half minutes to make safe the result and, although they had Anthony Modeste sent off late and Benzema grabbed a goal back in injury-time, the African champions advanced to the semi-finals. They take on recent Copa Libertadores winners Fluminense, of Brazil, on Monday.

Speaking to The National immediately after their defeat, Fabinho said: “We are disappointed. We played at home, we expected to reach at least the semi-finals, but unfortunately the tournament finished today for us.

“We didn’t play a good game. Defensively, we didn’t put the right intensity; they had a lot of space to play. And they are a good team.

“If you let a good team play, they will always create danger against you. With the ball, it wasn’t our best game, but we created some good opportunities with our quality.

“We could have scored first, we could have equalised just before the end of the first half, and, yes, in front of goal they were clinical. We were not - their goalkeeper had a really good game.

"In the end, I don’t know if we deserve more. But they played a good game.”

Signed in the summer from Liverpool, the team with which he captured a litany of trophies including the 2019 Club World Cup, Fabinho was one of a number of high-profile recruits at Ittihad during the most recent transfer window.

Benzema arrived initially, as the reigning Ballon d’Or holder, with 2018 World Cup winner N’Golo Kante following alongside Real Betis defender Luiz Felipe and Celtic winger Jota.

Felipe missed out on the Club World Cup having this month sustained an injury, while on Friday Jota was a second-half substitute.

Asked if the pressure had gotten to Ittihad as they sought a place in the semi-final, Fabinho replied: “No. A lot of the players are used to important games like this. And, of course, we - when I say ‘we’ I mean the players that come from Europe - we have a big responsibility here because everyone expects a lot from us.

“So we always try to be at the highest level to help the team with our qualities. But, it’s hard to say after a defeat. As I said before, in my vision we didn’t put the right intensity. I don’t have any more excuses.

"The only fact is we have to accept this - they were better than us, so that’s it.”

Despite the elimination, Ittihad still have plenty to play for this campaign. Although they sit fifth in the Saudi Pro League, 19 points off leaders Al Hilal after 17 rounds – they do have a game in hand - Ittihad have 2024/25 Asian Champions League qualification to fight for, while the two-time winners are through to the knockout stages of this year’s competition.

Marcelo Gallardo's side also have a King’s Cup quarter-final to contest: the delayed tie with Al Faisaly.

On his role in picking up teammates for the remainder of the season, Fabinho said: “It’s a big disappointment to lose this way at our home, but we still have three important competitions to play.

“A big team like Ittihad, the fans expect a lot from us, and we want to win one or two competitions by the end of this season.

“We have the tournaments, and they just depend on us - the King’s Cup, the Asian Champions League, so these are prestigious competitions that we want to win, and to be in the Asian Champions League next season as well.”

Updated: December 16, 2023, 10:59 AM