Club World Cup: Al Ahly focused on Fluminense after statement win over Al Ittihad

Confidence flowing for African champions as they send out timely reminder of their quality

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Al Ahly “showed who we are” in their superb Fifa Club World Cup victory against hosts Al Ittihad, but are focused only on Fluminense despite the carrot of meeting Manchester City in the final, according to midfielder Taher Mohamed.

The African champions, making a ninth appearance in the tournament, triumphed 3-1 on Friday night in their second-round clash against Karim Benzema, N’Golo Kante and Co in Jeddah.

Ahly raced to a 3-0 lead just after the hour at a King Abdullah Sports City packed with more than 56,000 fans, with Ali Maaloul, Hussein El Shahat and Emam Ashour getting the goals.

Benzema, who had earlier missed a penalty with the score at 1-0, pulled one back for the Saudi champions deep into injury-time, and Ahly had Anthony Modeste sent off, but they ran out deserving winners to set up a semi-final on Monday against Brazil’s Fluminense.

It marked a remarkable result for the Egyptians, who came into the Club World Cup with a solitary win in five games – and only three in their past 11 outings.

“It was a crazy game, a fantastic game, the crowd was unbelievable today, with the Al Ahly fans and Al Ittihad fans,” Mohamed said. “We knew it was going to be a big game and a challenging one, but we fought until the end.

“We made a big score against a big team, with big players.”

Mohamed, who entered the match as a second-half substitute, described Mohamed Al Shenawy’s save from Benzema’s penalty right at the end of the first half as “the twist” in the encounter.

However, having taken huge confidence from victory, he said Ahly are not yet dreaming of a possible final with City. The Premier League and European champions enter in the last four, when on Tuesday they take on 2022/23 Asian Champions League winners Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.

“You know anything can happen in football," Mohamed said. "Today everyone was saying that Ittihad was going to make it, even their fans, but we showed them who are Al Ahly and, with our fans, they gave us a big motivation.

“We’re not focusing on Manchester City yet; we’re just focusing on Fluminense. We want to make it to the final – we’ve never played the final before [they have been third three times] – so this year we have a really good chance to make it. We have just to pass Fluminense first.”

Mohamed, 26, said he knows some of the Fluminense players, such as former Real Madrid left-back Marcelo and former Juventus and Inter Milan midfielder Felipe Melo. He added that previous Club World Cup matches against fellow Brazilians Palmeiras – Ahly lost the 2021 semi-final to the Sao Paulo side in Abu Dhabi – should help on Monday.

Asked how Ahly turned around their poor form to push through to the semi-final, Mohamed said: “We had very high motivation, we have experience of this tournament. We played a lot. A lot of players have played four or five times this tournament. So it gave us confidence.

“Like I said, whenever we travel to an Arab country the Al Ahly fans are everywhere, so I hope they come with more fans to the next game so they can motivate us and give us a really big boost.”

On the importance of the Club World Cup to his continent, Mohamed added: “It means a lot to the fans in Egypt and to African football. It’s like a recognition to African football; people don’t know much about it, the African league, the Egyptian league.

“So, whenever we have the chance to come here, we have a good opportunity to show our quality. Everyone shows ability in how they play football.”

Goalscorer Maaloul said of the Fluminense test: “We certainly have enough time to prepare for the next match and read the opponent well.

“Today we rejoice and celebrate, and tomorrow we begin preparing for the that. We know we have a big match ahead of us against a Brazilian club.

“I hope the fighting spirit that was present today will be there in the next match.”

Updated: December 17, 2023, 4:59 AM