Saudi Arabian champions Al Ittihad and their star striker Karim Benzema avoided Manchester City in the semi-finals draw yesterday for the first Fifa Club World Cup to be hosted by the kingdom.
The December 12-22 tournament for continental champions and the host nation’s league winner will be played in Al Ittihad’s home city Jeddah.
The event will be the last Club World Cup in the current annual format before a 32-team version played every four years starts in June 2025. The inaugural host is the United States.
Al Ittihad will open the seven-team tournament against Auckland City, the champion of Oceania.
The winners will advance to face African champion Al Ahly of Egypt in the second round for a place in the semi-finals against the champions of South America. The Copa Libertadores is currently at the semi-finals stage featuring Boca Juniors of Argentina and Brazilian clubs Palmeiras, Fluminense and Internacional.
Man City, as the champion of Europe, also gets direct entry to the semi-finals and will play either Club León of Mexico or Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.
The final on December 22 will be played at the 62,000-seat King Abdullah Sports City, home of Al Ittihad.
Al Ittihad recruited three former Club World Cup winners in a lavish spending spree by clubs across the Saudi league since Benzema agreed to leave Real Madrid in June.
Benzema won the world club title five times with Madrid , including the last edition in February against a Saudi opponent. Benzema scored in a 5-3 win over Al Hilal who have since signed Neymar.
Benzema’s new club teammates include N’Golo Kanté, who won the 2021 title with Chelsea, and Fabinho, who won with Liverpool in 2019.
Europe’s Champions League winners have won the Club World Cup in 15 of the past 16 editions. Only Chelsea lost in 2012 against Corinthians of Brazil.
Fifa president Gianni Infantino and Saudi football federation leader Yasser Almisehal, who is now a member of the ruling Fifa Council, attended the draw ceremony.