Al Ain manager Zoran Mamic has described his team’s participation in this year’s Fifa Club World Cup as a “great honour”, as Monday marks 100 days until the tournament gets under way in the UAE.
The Emirati champions, who opened their Arabian Gulf League title defence on Friday with a 3-1 victory at Emirates club, will feature as host representatives at the December 12-22 event, which also includes Uefa Champions League holders Real Madrid.
Making their Club World Cup debut, Al Ain will open the tournament at their Hazza bin Zayed Stadium on December 12 in a play-off against New Zealand’s Team Wellington, the Oceania champions.
The draw for the remainder of the event takes place in Zurich on Tuesday, with Madrid and Mexico’s Guadalajara the only other teams confirmed. The remaining three entrants - the winner of South America's Copa Libertadores, the Asian Champions League and the African Champions League - will not be decided until November.
“It is a great honour for Al Ain to be part of the Fifa Club World Cup in our own country - we will try to do our best,” Mamic said. “We’re waiting to see the final list of qualifiers, but it’s a great pleasure to be part of a tournament to crown the best club team on the planet.
"Al Ain deserves to be in this group of teams this year. There are 100 days until the tournament kicks off, but we are looking forward to our date with destiny.”
Al Ain will be hoping to set a date against Madrid. Last year, with the tournament again taking place in the Emirates, the Spanish giants were given a real scare by Al Jazira in the semi-finals, when the Abu Dhabi side went 1-0 up before eventually losing 2-1.
Madrid then captured the Club World Cup for a record-equalling third time, and will be overwhelming favorites to retain the title in the capital this year.
When is the 2018 Fifa Club World Cup? All you need to know about tournament
“I played against Real Madrid in the Uefa Champions League during my playing career: they are a huge team, one of the biggest in the world,” said Mamic, a former Croatia international who represented Dinamo Zagreb and Bayer Leverkusen, among others.
“For the country, and football fans in the Emirates, it's a big thing to see these players live in the flesh and, of course, it's a big event that I hope the entire country will enjoy.
“Real Madrid are a team I like very much and they obviously have a strong Croatian connection with Luka Modric. It will great to welcome my countrymen to Al Ain, Abu Dhabi and the UAE in December.”
Al Ain captain Ismail Ahmed added: “Everybody is happy Al Ain will play in the Fifa Club World Cup in the UAE in December – every professional footballer wants to play in tournaments like this.
"When you are playing [Cristiano] Ronaldo, [Lionel] Messi, [Gareth] Bale or any big player, you always have extra motivation and concentration for the game.
“This will be one of the best chapters in my career. Playing against teams like Real Madrid is a story you will never forget. It is why we play professional football: to play against the very best players and teams.
“We will prepare for these champions with the respect they deserve, but Al Ain is not scared of any team, we are here to play football. It’s 11 versus 11. The level will be a step up, but we are ready.
"We want to know our own level by playing against the best teams from Europe, South America and elsewhere in the world.”