Will Olunga and Co stop Bayern?
Bayern Munich jet off to Qatar this week targeting another title at the FIFA Club World Cup, taking their place in the six-team tournament as winners of last year’s UEFA Champions League.
These are the teams who will be challenging the Germans, overwhelming favourites to make it an eighth straight European winner of the competition:
As winners of the Copa Libertadores, South America’s premier club competition, Palmeiras represent Bayern’s primary threat in Qatar.
Of the four Club World Cups not won by a European club, all have gone to teams from Brazil, with Corinthians taking the honours in 2000 and 2012, Sao Paulo in 2005 and Internacional in 2006.
Palmeiras, Brazil’s most successful club with 10 national titles, secured the Libertadores trophy for the second time over the weekend, defeating Sao Paulo state rivals Santos 1-0 courtesy of Breno Lopes’ goal in the ninth minute of stoppage time.
Former Shakhtar Donetsk star Luiz Adriano, who returned to Brazil in 2019 after more than a decade in Europe, initially earned a move to Ukraine after starring for Internacional in the 2006 tournament, as the Porto Alegre outfit defeated Barcelona 2-1 in the final.
Gabriel Menino, a versatile midfielder but also touted as the heir apparent at right-back to Dani Alves for Brazil, is one to watch while a host of Europe’s top clubs are reportedly courting 18-year-old attacker Gabriel Veron, who missed the Copa Libertadores final due to injury.
The Egyptian giants celebrated a record-extending ninth African Champions League title last year, defeating Cairo rivals Zamalek in the first final featuring clubs from the same country.
South African Pitso Mosimane became only the third coach to win the competition with two clubs, having led Mamelodi Sundowns to the 2016 title.
Al Ahly conceded just eight goals in 34 games in cruising to a fifth successive league triumph, and won the Egyptian Cup on penalties in December.
They will be appearing at the Club World Cup for the sixth time, their best showing a third-place finish 15 years ago when they were beaten in the semi-finals by eventual champions Internacional of Brazil.
Mohamed ‘Afsha’ Magdy, whose late winner saw off Zamalek to punch Al Ahly’s ticket to Qatar, is one of several Egypt internationals in the squad.
The South Korean club return to Qatar barely six weeks after their Asian Champions League success.
Ulsan reeled off nine successive wins once the delayed tournament restarted after its relocation to the Gulf state.
Former national team star Hong Myung-bo, a cornerstone of the side that reached the 2002 World Cup semi-finals, has replaced Kim Do-hoon as coach.
Veteran striker Junior Negrao spent much of his career bouncing around the Brazilian lower leagues but has found a place to call home in Ulsan.
His double in the December final secured victory over Iran’s Persepolis, and a haul of 26 goals in 27 K-League games last term mark him out as the man to watch for the Koreans.
The Mexican side ended their long wait for an elusive CONCACAF Champions League crown with a dramatic victory over Los Angeles FC in the 2020 final.
After finishing runners-up in three of the past four editions, Tigres finally got their hands on the trophy as former Marseille and France striker Andre-Pierre Gignac hit a late winner in Orlando.
Gignac, 35, has been a huge success at the Liga-MX outfit, scoring 144 goals in 244 games since joining on a free transfer in 2015, although his effectiveness could be hampered by a hip injury sustained last month.
Mexican champions on seven occasions, most recently in 2019, Tigres are making their Club World Cup debut. No team from the region has ever reached the final.
The reigning champions of the host nation, Al Duhail received a bye through the first round after would-be Oceania representatives Auckland City withdrew because of the pandemic and related quarantine measures required by the New Zealand authorities.
Managed by former France international and ex-Rennes and Nottingham Forest coach Sabri Lamouchi, Al Duhail can count on the experience of Morocco international Medhi Benatia, formerly of Bayern and Juventus, in defence. -AFP
Much of Al Duhail’s firepower is derived from Brazilian duo Edmilson Junior and Dudu, the latter incidentally appearing twice for Palmeiras in the Copa Libertadores group stage before moving on loan to Qatar in July.
Almoez Ali, who scored a tournament-record nine goals in Qatar’s 2019 Asian Cup triumph, is another player to monitor while Kenya striker Michael Olunga recently joined from Japanese club Kashiwa Reysol.