- Al Ahly face hosts Al Duhail in their Qatar 2020 opener
- Coach Pitso Mosimane hails Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy
- He discusses a potential showdown against Bayern Munich
Egypt’s Al Ahly Sporting Club are back at the FIFA Club World Cup after a seven-year absence. The Red Devils are aiming to go as far as they can in a tournament in which they have previously struggled to make an impact.
The reigning African champions found out who they would be facing when the tournament draw was made at FIFA headquarters in Zurich on 19 January. Pitted against host team Al Duhail Sports Club in the second round, the Egyptians have their sights set on a meeting with German giants Bayern Munich in the semi-finals.
“Al Duhail are a good side,” Al Ahly coach Pitso Mosimane told FIFA.com. “They won the Stars League in Qatar, which is very competitive, with good sides like Al Sadd, who are coached by Xavi and who have a great Algerian forward too (Baghdad Bounedjah).
“Al Duhail won the Qatari league because they’ve got some excellent players who’ve shown what they can do. [Mario] Mandzukic played for them until recently too. Now that we know they’re our opponents, we’ll have a good look at them.
“We can’t choose the opposition in the Club World Cup draw. We have to be ready to play who we’re drawn against.
“Every team and every coach believe they have the ability to win the trophy, but the fact is that it won’t be easy against opponents of the calibre of Bayern Munich and the Copa Libertadores winners. You look at them and you realise how big a job we’ve got.
“We’ve got excellent players and everyone speaks about Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy. That’s maybe because he got us to the Club World Cup with his goals, though he couldn’t have done it without his team-mates. He’s an Egypt international and we’re delighted to have a player of his quality and goalscoring ability. He’s a playmaker and helps us create space too.”
Mosimane was on duty at the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2016, when he coached South Africa’s Mamelodi Sundowns.
“It was a tough tournament,” he recalled. “The first obstacle we had to overcome was the six-hour time difference between the two countries. Then there was the cold winter weather in Osaka. To be honest, our opponents handled it better than we did.
“We lost 4-1 to Jeonbuk of Korea Republic and 3-0 to Kashima Antlers of Japan. We just had to deal with it and we were sorry we couldn’t give a better account of ourselves and that we came away goalless against Kashima Antlers.
“It was our first Club World Cup experience and I think stage fright got the better of us. We didn’t do well and that just shows the level of competition here. I think TP Mazembe are the only African side to have reached the final [Raja Club Athletic of Morocco also made the final, in 2013], so it won’t be easy.”
Bayern dream, Mazembe inspiration
Every side in the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 is dreaming of taking on the mighty Bayern, Al Ahly among them.
“If we beat Al Duhail, the tournament hosts, we’ll face Bayern Munich, which won’t be easy,” said Mosimane. “That said, we won’t have anything to lose if we get that far. We need to be at our best and fly the flag for the continent, the country and all the fans, so that they can be proud of us. If we give it our all on the pitch and we lose, we can go away satisfied because the level is so high.
“We’re a good side and we believe we can do big things. We’ve got the Qatari team in our first match and then we’ll see what happens. We hope we get the chance to face Bayern. We’d be delighted to play them and it would be an honour for us. There wouldn’t be any pressure on us either, because they’re the team who beat Barcelona.
“Al Ahly have played in the Club World Cup, but not with this generation of players. They did it when Mohamed Aboutrika was around but they couldn’t make the final. It’s a different team now, a different time, and it’s been seven years since they last took part in the Club World Cup.
“Every team has a chance. It’s 90 minutes and we can spring a surprise if we give it all we’ve got on matchday. Football is a wonderful sport in which the unexpected can happen and we should take inspiration from what TP Mazembe did.”
Turning his attention to the other sides in the competition, Mosimane said: “Brazilian teams are always strong. I’ve seen a few Ulsan Hyundai games. They’re a good side as well. The standard’s going to be high.”
The Al Ahly coach is in no doubt about the importance of the FIFA Club World Cup: “I was here with my coaching staff from the Sundowns and I remember just how tough the competition is. It’s a FIFA tournament and in terms of organisation you can’t compare it with any other competition. Everything is amazing: the hotels, the travel arrangements, everything.
“Qatar is a great country too. When we played in 2016, the team from South America didn’t even make it to the final.”
Wrapping things up, the Mosimane sent a message to the Ahly fans: “Our supporters believe we’ve got a chance. They always back us and push us on and we’ll give our all for them.”