PREVIEW: Auckland City keen to turn underdog status to their advantage

posted in: FIFA Club World Cup, News

Auckland City head coach Albert Riera says his side goes into their FIFA Club World Cup tie with a few advantages over opponents Al-Ittihad.

“One I would say is that we’re are the underdog,” Riera told Auckland City Media ahead of Wednesday’s match (7am NZT).

Riera said another was that the Saudi Arabian champions were expected to win, and win easily, in front of what’s likely to be a partisan crowd of up to 60,000 at King Abdulah Sports City Stadium, Jeddah.

“We’re going to utilize that to our advantage. That’s what we are focusing addressing to the players that we all have a pride, we all play football for many years and in a one-off game, anything is possible.

“I think the pressure that those guys have, the Al-Ittihad players have, it is huge, massive … not just to beat us but doing it probably with a big margin.”

Riera says some of his squad also have experience playing at the tournament.

“We will stick to our game plan with our players — they really enjoy it; they have a lot of confidence.”

As for Auckland City’s chances of getting a win?

“We’re very realistic. I would say the chances to lose the game are higher than winning it. If that’s the reality, I don’t know, you know, the percentage of it but what we know is that we’re going to be playing a team that is very strong in front of the the crowd, in front of the fans on the opening game of the big tournament.”

Main photo: Auckland City players prepare for Wednesday’s game beside the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium.

Watch Albert Riera interview

Milestones for the game

For Auckland City, Wednesday’s match will mark the club’s 11th foray into the FIFA Club World Cup — more than any other club in the world.

If striker Emiliano Tade (35) gets on the pitch, he’ll equal the record of Al Ahly winger Hussein Elshahat of 12 Club World Cup appearances.

Al-Ittihad have three Club World Cup winners in their ranks. Karim Benzema won five titles with Real Madrid, Fabinho helped Liverpool conquer at Qatar 2019, and N’Golo Kante was central to Chelsea’s UAE 2021 triumph.

State of the squads

Al-Ittihad will be without Italy centre-back Luiz Felipe, who suffered a muscle tear during their last game before the tournament. Romarinho and Karim Benzema, who had both been out injured, have returned to training and are at the disposal of head coach Marcelo Gallardo.

Auckland coach Riera has a full squad to select from.

Match officials

The three on-field officials will be the same all-female trio that officiated at this year’s final of the FIFA Women’s World Cup in Sydney.

READ MORE: The trailblazing trio who’ll officiate Auckland City’s FIFA Club World Cup tie >>>>

What they say

“I think we have to be ourselves. We’ve done a lot of homework. We have a game plan we think we can use to get at them a bit. We’re not going to get overwhelmed by the occasion; we are going to express ourselves.” — Angus Kilkolly, Auckland City striker.

“Any game in the Club World Cup is always very tough. The first game always has the nervousness factor too. It’s one game only, a knockout match; you need to win to stay alive in the competition. We know Auckland will be tough to beat.” — Marcelo Grohe, Al-IIttihad goalkeeper.

“They’ve brought in some world-class players, some of the best in the world. It will be very challenging. Sometimes when you mix the best players in the world, it doesn’t gel, but I’ve been watching their games and it has gelled.” — Cameron Howieson, Auckland City midfielder.

“We can’t look beyond our first assignment, which in these cases tend to be the most important one.” — Marcelo Gallardo, Al-Ittihad head coach.

“We don’t kid ourselves that we’re one of the mega clubs in the world. We’re not. That’s obvious. But we can be the best version of ourselves and that’s what underpins everything that we do.” — Gordon Watson, Auckland City general manager.



1 Abdullah Al-Mayouf (36), Saudia Arabia
34 Marcelo Grohe (36), Brazil
88 Osama Mubarak Hajaj Al Marwash (20), Saudi Arabia

4 Omar Othman (38), Saudi Arabia
5 Luiz Felipe (26), Italy
12 Zakaria Al Hawsawi (22), Saudi Arabia
13 Muhannad Alshanqiti (24), Saudi Arabia
15 Hassan Kadesh (31), Saudi Arabia
25 Suwailem Al Menhali (19), Saudi Arabia
26 Ahmed Hegazi (32), Egypt
28 Ahmed Bamasud (28), Saudi Arabia
33 Madallah Al-Olayan (29), Saudi Arabia

6 Sultan Al Farhan (27), Saudi Arabia
7 N’Golo Kante (32), France
8 Fabinho (30), Brazil
10 Igor Coronado (31), Brazil
16 Faisal AI Ghamdi (22), Saudi Arabia
17 Marwan Al Sahafi (19), Saudi Arabia

9 Karim Benzema (35), France
11 Jota (24), Portugal
24 Abdulrahman Al-Obud (28), Saudi Arabia
77 Saleh Al-Jamaan (30), Saudi Arabia
90 Romarinho (32), Brazil
99 Abderrazak Hamdallah (32), Могоссо


Head coach: Marcelo Gallardo
Assistant coach: Matias Biscay
Assistant coach: Hernan Bujan
Assistant coach: Mariano Barnao
Assistant coach: Khalifa Hassan
Goalkeeper coach: Cesar Zinelli

Auckland City

1 Conor Tracey (26), New Zealand
18 Joe Wallis (18), New Zealand
24 Sebastian Ciganda (30), Uruguay

2 Mario Ilich (28), New Zealand
3 Adam Mitchell (27), New Zealand
4 Christian Gray (27), New Zealand
5 Timothy Boulet (25), Vanuatu
12 Regont Murati (27), New Zealand
13 Nathan Lobo (20), New Zealand
14 Jordan Vale (29), New Zealand
23 Alfie Rogers (28), New Zealand

7 Cam Howieson (captain), (29), New Zealand
8 Gerard Garriga (30), Spain
15 Aidan Carey (22), New Zealand
22 Tong Zhou (33), China PR
25 Michael Den Heijer (27), New Zealand

9 Angus Kilkolly (27), New Zealand
10 Dylan Manickum (29), New Zealand
11 Ryan De Vries (32), New Zealand
16 Joe Lee (21), New Zealand
19 Liam Gillion (21), New Zealand
20 Emiliano Tade (35), Argentina

Head coach: Albert Riera
Assistant coach: Ivan Vicelich
Goalkeeper coach: Enaut Zubikarai
Fitness: Adria Casals
Logistics: Keith Coton
Physio: Matt Payne


Referee: Tori Penso (United States)
Assistant Referee 1: Brooke Mayo (United States)
Assistant Referee 2: Katie Nesbitt (United States)
Fourth Official: Jean-Jacques Ndala Ngambo (DR Congo)


FIFA Club World Cup

Game to be played on Wednesday December 13 (NZT)

Al-Ittihad v Auckland City
King Abdulah Sports City Stadium, 7am (NZT)

More football stories