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Back in Japan
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 04 - 12 - 2012

Ahli travelled early to Japan to get adjusted to the time difference and the cold. Ahli coach Hossam Al-Badri also wanted his players as far away as possible from Egypt's political struggles as the country itself tries to readjust in the post-Mubarak era.
“I want the players to be far from any tension and to concentrate more on their opponents as they will not only represent Ahli but Egypt as a whole.”
The team will play only one friendly match after a very taxing flight to Japan. “We decided to play a friendly against Japan's Chikayo, which is one of the average teams in the Japanese league. I don't want the players to be injured or exert their utmost effort before the first match,” Sayed Abdel-Hafiz, Ahli's football manager, explained.
Ahli's first match will be on Sunday 9 December. They have a bye and await the winner of the game between Auckland and Hiroshima.
“Facing Auckland is far easier than facing Hiroshima in the first match as the latter will be backed by his fans and playing on its home territory,” according to Mahmoud Al-Khatib, Ahli's former superstar and head of Ahli's delegation in Japan.
Al-Khatib said that after the unprecedented achievement of Ahli's winning the African League Champion title “despite the ruthless situation that football is facing in general and what happened to Ahli in Port Said in particular, everything will be easier afterwards.”
Al-Khatib was referring to February's football riot in a league game between Ali and Masri in Port Said which killed 72 people, mostly Ahli supporters. The league was cancelled as a result and the new season is in danger of not being played either due to security concerns.
“Ahli players are full of enthusiasm and insistence to add more titles to the martyrs of Port Said and this is the catalyst that is pushing the team forward.”
He said Ahli had sent a letter to FIFA asking for permission to allow its players to wear black arm bands and T-shirts with the number 72 during warm ups. FIFA has in principle agreed but has not yet made it official.
Al-Khatib also said Ahli players had received part of their bonus before travelling to Japan “to cheer the players up and give them a push to be able to perform well.” This is Al-Khatib's fourth time he travels with Ahli to Japan as head of delegation.
Also, Ahli is looking for an Egyptian cook in Japan to prepare what the team's physical fitness coach wants for the players.
Sayed Moawad, Ahli's midfielder who missed the final match against Esperance of Tunisia in the CAF Champions League due to injury, was fit to fly with the team to Japan and is training in the hotel's gym.
Ahli complained about the cramped hotel rooms but the officials have not yet switched to another hotel as the accommodation is booked by FIFA and not the club.
Meanwhile, the club's biggest draw, Mohamed Abu Treika, announced from Japan that he will not retire except after Egypt qualifies to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. “Ahli players were able to confront all obstacles to win the African title and qualify for the FIFA Clubs World Cup although it was a very far-fetched hope. I am very confident in the national team players and their insistence to go to the World Cup. It is impossible that the Egyptian national team has not been in the World Cup since 1990.”
This year's FIFA Club World Cup is the eighth edition of the event with South Americans clubs winning the trophies in the first three editions: Corinthians in 2000, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006. Since then, it has been all Europe. AC Milan took the title in 2007, followed by Manchester United in 2008, with Inter Milan's 2010 success being sandwiched between Barcelona's two wins in the competition. Players totaling 160 from every continent, many with vast international experience, will begin competing for this year's FIFA Club World Cup crown.
The rest of the world is anxious to end all that, however, as Monterrey's experienced Argentinian forward Cesar Delgado explained to FIFA.com: “It's something we're all looking forward to. We want to excel in this tournament. We know how important it is and that the big teams will be there, and our No 1 objective is to get to the final and win it.” Two years ago Africa's TP Mazembe became the first African country to reach a FIFA Club World Cup final when they beat Internacional of Brazil 2-0 in the semis. In doing so, the men from Congo DR set an example to be followed and gave hope for other African and Arab teams.
Ahli is playing with six other teams -- New Zealand's Auckland City, North Korea's Ulson Hyundai, Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima, London's Chelsea, Brazil's Corinthians and Mexico's Monterrey.
Egypt's Ahli have won countless national titles in addition to seven CAF Champions Leagues records(1982, 1987, 2001, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2012). They also participated in three FIFA Club World Cups, in 2005, 2006 and 2008, winning the bronze medal in 2006 under Manuel Jose, their previous Portuguese manager.
Although it was founded only in 2004, Auckland City are FIFA Club World Cup veterans, having competed at the global event thrice since 2006. In Abu Dhabi 2009, the New Zealanders finished in fifth place. They also featured last year at Japan 2011. The Aucklanders have secured the OFC O-League title in the past two seasons.
Monterrey ranked fifth in the FIFA Club World Cup 2011 edition. Having retained their CONCACAF Champions League, Los Rayados will be eager to draw on last year's lessons and experience to improve their presentation this time.
England's Chelsea previously came closest in the 2008 European championship losing the final on penalties in Moscow to rivals Manchester United. Chelsea finally broke their European sadness in May this year, leading the side to glory against Bayern Munich. The club finished sixth in the English Premier League, but went into the 2012/13 Champions League group stage as holders.
Corinthians have won a number of Brazilian championships to their name, along with three Brazilian cups, dozens of Sao Paulo state titles and a FIFA Club World Championship, secured on home soil in 2000. In 2012,they were titled as continental champions for the very first time.
Sanfrecce Hiroshima were one of the J.League's 10 founding teams in 1992. Hiroshima's superb youth academy was influential in the club's first J.League title in 2012.
Asian champions Ulsan Hyundai swept into the AFC Champions League semi-finals in 2006. In 2008, they lifted the popular trophy. In 2012, they won all their matches in the Champions League to gain Asian supremacy.
The following statistics are supplied by FIFA.com:
$16.5 million in prize money are on offer at Japan 2012. The winner will take home a cool $5 million and the seventh-place team $500,000.
2.4 million fans have attended FIFA Club World Cup matches since the tournament's first incarnation in 2000. The largest match-day attendances came at Japan 2007, where an average of 45,553 turned up as Paolo Maldini's AC Milan ruled the roost, edging Martin Palermo's Boca Juniors to the world title.
2004 is the founding year of New Zealand representatives Auckland City, making them the youngest club in the competition. Chelsea, founded in 1905, are the oldest.
199 goals have been scored in the 67 FIFA Club World Cup games played between 2000 and 2011. The first goal of these, the ninth finals, will be a historic 200th.
46 teams have participated in the FIFA Club World Cup. Among them, only two have competed in three editions: Ahli and Auckland City. The two clubs will make it four later this week.
16 years of age makes Papua New Guinea-born David Browne of Auckland City the youngest player at these finals.
7 is the most Club World Cup games played by an individual player. Four Ahli players share the distinction: Hossam Ashour, Mohamed Abou Treika, Wael Gomaa and Shadi Mohamed.
6 shining pillars prop up the globe on the FIFA Club World Cup trophy, each pillar representing one of the six confederations of FIFA.
5 the number of FIFA Club World Cups Auckland City's Daniel Koprivcic has taken part in, a tournament record. He played twice with Waitakere United and Japan 2012 will be his third run-out with his current club.
4 the most goals scored by individual players at the FIFA Club World Cup (Lionel Messi of Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 and Denilson of Pohang Steelers in 2009). Ahli's iconic playmaker Mohamed Abou Treika is right behind with three goals, and will be taking aim at the record in his fourth appearance with the Egyptian giants.
3 teams of the 2012 FIFA Club World Cup cast are taking part in the tournament for the first time - Chelsea, Japan's Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Ulsan Hyundai of Korea Republic.
2 players of the current Corinthians team have already hoisted aloft the FIFA Club World Cup trophy. Left-back Fábio Santos and midfielder Danilo both took the laurels in 2005 with São Paulo.
1 team from outside of Europe and South American has reached the Club World Cup final: TP Mazembe Englebert of DR Congo in 2010.


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