FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020: Meet the contenders

Doha: The eyes of the football world will soon be on the Middle East for the first major tournament of the year. The FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 will be held from 4-11 February after the annual competition was delayed by two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The top clubs from five of football’s six continental confederations will join host nation representatives Al Duhail SC in determining who will be crowned the world’s best. Auckland City FC, who were nominated to represent the Oceania region at Qatar 2020, withdrew from the competition because of COVID-19 quarantine measures required by authorities in New Zealand.

The tournament will also showcase two FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 stadiums: Ahmad Bin Ali and Education City.

As part of our FIFA Club World Cup build-up, takes a closer look at the six clubs seeking to win the prestigious title.

Al Duhail SC

Country: Qatar

Qualified: Host nation champions

FCWC record: First appearance

Head coach: Sabri Lamouchi

As reigning Qatar Stars League (QSL) champions, Al Duhail SC will be flying the flag of the host nation at this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. The Red Knights will be making their debut in the competition after edging Al Rayyan to last season’s league title by a single point.

Founded in 2009 as Lekhwiya SC, the club rebranded under the name Al Duhail when it merged with El Jaish SC in 2017. Since coming into existence, Al Duhail’s impact on Qatari club football has been impressive, as last season’s league triumph was their seventh QSL title. The club’s honour roll also includes three Amir Cup titles, three Qatar Cup crowns and two Sheikh Jassim Cup successes.  

Al Duhail’s domestic success over the past decade has also earned the club nine consecutive appearances in the AFC Champions League since 2012, with the Doha outfit set to take part again in 2021.       

Al Duhail are led by head coach Sabri Lamouchi, who is a familiar face to followers of the QSL. The former France international enjoyed spells with Al Rayyan, Umm Salal and Al Kharaitiyat in the latter stages of his playing career. He was also El Jaish’s last head coach before the club joined Lekhwiya to become Al Duhail in 2017.

The current squad includes several members of Qatar’s national team, including key players that led the Maroons to AFC Asian Cup glory in 2019. They include centre back Bassam Al Rawi, midfielders Ali Afif and Assim Madibo, as well as the tournament’s best player and top goal scorer Almoez Ali. Lamouchi’s side also includes experienced Moroccan international defender Medhi Benatia, Belgian winger Edmilson and Brazilian attacking midfielder Dudu, who is on loan from Palmeiras in his home country.

Al Ahly SC

Country: Egypt

Qualified: CAF Champions League winners

FCWC record: Sixth appearance (best finish: 3rd in 2006)

Head coach: Pitso Mosimane

Widely regarded as world football’s most decorated club, Al Ahly SC have been a dominant force in Egyptian and African football, with their success earning them the accolade of ‘Club of the Century’ from the Confederation of African Football (CAF). The Cairo-based outfit will be making their sixth appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup after defeating arch-rivals Zamalek SC 2-1 in the 2020 CAF Champions League final.

Their best finish in the competition was third at Japan 2006.

Founded in 1907, Al Ahly’s trophy cabinet includes a remarkable 139 titles in domestic and international club competitions. They are Egypt’s most decorated club, having won 42 Egyptian Premier League titles, 37 Egyptian Cup crowns and 11 Egyptian Super Cups. This includes a domestic league and cup double triumph last season.

The Red Devils are also Africa’s most successful club, with 20 titles to their name. This includes the CAF Champions League (9), CAF Confederation Cup (1), CAF Super Cup (6) and the defunct CAF Cup Winners’ Cup (4).

Led by former South African international Pitso Mosimane, Al Ahly’s current squad includes Egyptian international goalkeeper and club captain Mohamed El Shenawy and left-back Ali Maaloul, who was in Tunisia’s World Cup squad at Russia 2018. Mali international Aliou Dieng is a promising defensive midfielder, while Mohamed Magdy was Al Ahly’s hero when he scored the winning goal in last November’s CAF Champions League final.

Among the list of former players that enjoyed success with Al Ahly are SC ambassadors Mohamed Aboutrika and Wael Gomaa.

FC Bayern Munich

Country: Germany

Qualified: UEFA Champions League winners

FCWC record: Second appearance (best finish: winners in 2013)

Head coach: Hans-Dieter Flick

A German and European football powerhouse, FC Bayern Munich will be looking to follow a highly-successful 2019-20 season by claiming a second FIFA Club World Cup title in Qatar. Their debut appearance in the competition resulted in the Bavarians winning the title at Morocco 2013. They also claimed the precursor to the Club World Cup on two occasions, winning the Intercontinental Cup title in 1976 and 2001. Bayern secured their berth at Qatar 2020 after claiming their sixth UEFA Champions League title with a 1-0 win over Paris Saint-Germain in the final last August.

Founded in 1900, Bayern are Germany’s most successful club, having won a record number of Bundesliga (30), Cup (20), Super Cup (9) and League Cup (6) titles. Alongside their six UEFA Champions League titles, Bayern’s success in European club football includes winning the now-defunct UEFA Cup Winners’ Cup in 1967, the UEFA Cup (now UEFA Europa League) in 1996 and two UEFA Super Cup crowns in 2013 and 2020.

Led by former Bayern midfielder Hans-Dieter Flick, the Bavarians boast some of world football’s top players. Last month, Polish international Robert Lewandowski was crowned The Best FIFA Men’s Player after topping the scoring charts in both the Bundesliga and UEFA Champions League, while German international and FIFA World Cup™ winner Manuel Neuer was named The Best FIFA Men’s Goalkeeper. Lewandowski was also named in the FIFA FIFPro Men’s World11 2020 alongside Bayern team-mates Alphonso Davies (Canada) and Joshua Kimmich (Germany).

Four other Bayern players have also had the fortune of lifting the World Cup trophy during the last two editions of football’s showpiece event. At Brazil 2014, centre back Jerome Boateng and attacking midfielder Thomas Muller led Germany to their fourth title before defender Benjamin Pavard and midfielder Corentin Tolisso helped France to their second World Cup triumph at Russia 2018.

SE Palmeiras

Country: Brazil

Qualified: CONMEBOL Libertadores winners

FCWC record: First appearance

Head coach: Abel Ferreira

One of the most successful clubs in Brazilian football, SE Palmeiras were the last club to book their place at the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2020 following a dramatic 1-0 victory over fellow Brazilian side Santos in the 2020 Copa Libertadores final on 30 January 2021. Their triumph in the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro was the Sao Paulo outfit’s second title, having won the South American club crown for the first time back in 1999. Though they will be making their Club World Cup debut in the Middle East, Palmeiras appeared in the 1999 Intercontinental Cup final, where they lost 1-0 to English giants Manchester United. They also won the first intercontinental club tournament in the Copa Rio back in 1951.  

Known as O Verdao (The Greens), Sociedade Esportiva Palmeiras was founded in 1914 and hold the record for the most Campeonato Brasileiro Serie A championships with ten titles to their name. Their honours list also includes three Copa do Brasil titles and a Copa dos Campeoes crown in 2000. Regionally, the club have also enjoyed great success in Campeonato Paulista, having won 25 titles over the course of a century.

Palmeiras are led by head coach Abel Ferreira, who became the second Portuguese and third European coach to lead a South American club to a Copa Libertadores title. In 2019, fellow countryman Jorge Jesus led Brazilian side Flamengo to the title and a runner-up finish at the last Club World Cup in Qatar.

Ferreira’s squad includes two members of Brazil’s gold-medal winning side from the Rio 2016 Olympics in goalkeeper Weverton and centre back Luan Garcia, while his defensive backline features Paraguayan international Gustavo Gomez and Uruguayan left-back Matias Vina. Players to watch out for in midfield include youngster Gabriel Menino, winger Rony, the attack-minded Ze Rafael and the experienced Lucas Lima.

Striker Luiz Adriano enjoyed previous spells with clubs in Europe, while forward Breno Lopes scored the winning goal against Santos to secure Palmeiras’s spot at Qatar 2020. The experienced Felipe Melo serves as club captain.

Tigres UANL    

Country: Mexico

Qualified: CONCACAF Champions League winners

FCWC record: First appearance

Head coach: Ricardo Ferretti

No debutant at a FIFA Club World Cup will feel more delighted at having the opportunity to face the world’s best clubs than Tigres UANL. The Mexican outfit have been a strong contender to win the CONCACAF Champions League title in recent years – only to come up short at the final stage on three previous occasions. Last month, however, Tigres finally reached the regional summit when they defeated Los Angeles FC 2-1 in the final of the 2020 edition.

Founded in 1960, Club de Futbol Tigres de la Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon have been one of the more consistent sides in Mexico in recent seasons. Among their seven Liga MX titles, their last four triumphs were achieved between 2015 and 2019 (three Apertura titles, one Clausura crown). The Monterrey-based outfit’s honour roll also includes three Copa MX titles and three consecutive Campeon de Campeones crowns (2016, 2017, 2018).

In his third spell as Tigres head coach, Brazilian-born Ricardo Ferretti is a familiar face in Mexican club football. Nicknamed ‘Tuca’, the 66-year-old has been in his current role since 2010. That longevity and commitment has finally been rewarded with the opportunity to showcase his Tigres side on a global stage.

Ferretti’s squad is a mix of Mexican and foreign talent. Defenders Hugo Ayala, Diego Reyes and Carlos Salcedo all appeared at a FIFA World Cup for Mexico, while winger Javier Aquino featured for El Tri at Brazil 2014 and Russia 2018. French striker Andre-Pierre Gignac has proven to be a real talisman for Tigres, while Colombian midfielder Luis Quinones and new Paraguayan signing Carlos Gonzalez are key players. Argentinian goalkeeper Nahuel Guzman has been a dependable servant, while Guzman’s fellow countryman Guido Pizarro serves as club captain.

Ulsan Hyundai FC

Country: Korea Republic

Qualified: AFC Champions League winners

FCWC record: Second appearance (best finish: 6th place in 2012)

Head coach: Hong Myung-bo

After claiming their second AFC Champions League title with a 2-1 victory over Iranian side Persepolis in Qatar last month, Ulsan Hyundai FC will make their second FIFA Club World Cup appearance when they return to the Middle East in early February. The Korea Republic club’s triumph in Doha followed their maiden success as Asian club champions back in 2012.

Founded in 1983 as Ulsan Hyundai Horang-i, the Tigers concluded their 2020 campaign with success in the AFC Champions League. On the domestic front, Ulsan narrowly missed out on more silverware by finishing runners-up in K League 1, three points behind champions Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors. It was the same opponent that Ulsan fell short to in the two-leg Korean FA Cup final, as Jeonbuk secured a league and cup double with a 3-2 aggregate win.

Along with their two AFC Champions League titles, Ulsan’s honour roll includes winning K League 1 in 1996 and 2005, the Korean FA Cup in 2017, five Korean League Cup titles and a Korean Super Cup in 2006.

At Qatar 2020, the Tigers will be led by a new head coach. Late last month, Korea Republic football legend Hong Myung-bo replaced Kim Do-hoon, who led the side to Asian glory and secured the club’s berth at the upcoming Club World Cup.

Hong’s squad includes several players who have appeared in the FIFA World Cup for Korea Republic. They include goalkeeper Jo Hyeon-woo (Russia 2018), defender/midfielder Hong Chul (Russia 2018) and winger Lee Chung-yong (South Africa 2010 & Brazil 2014). Kim Kee-hee and Yoon Bit-garam are key players for the Tigers, while midfielder Koh Myong-jin had a spell in Qatar with Al Rayyan.

Ulsan’s foreign contingent includes strikers Junior Negrao (Brazil) and Bjorn Johnsen (Norway), as well as Dutch centre back Dave Bulthuis. Defender Jason Davidson appeared for Australia at Brazil 2014.

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