Dubai: Fifa’s Club World Cup gets under way in Qatar on Wednesday as the underdogs kick off in the early rounds with the hope of making one of the two semi-final spots against either European champions Liverpool and South America’s top side Flamengo.
The opening game sees Qatari side Al Sadd take on Hienghene Sport from New Caledonia, the representatives of the Oceania confederation.
The winners will earn a clash with Mexico’s Monterrey, while the other second-round game sees Al Hilal of Saudi Arabia take on Tunisian club Esperance.
From there, the winners take on either Brazilian giants Flamengo on December 17 or Jurgen Klopp’s Reds on December 18.
The final takes place at Doha’s Khalifa Stadium on December 21.
Runaway Premier League leaders Liverpool are favourites to lift the trophy next weekend, but will need to be at their best if they are to overcome the South Americans — who should be their opponents barring any upsets in the semis.
Liverpool showed remarkable resilience on their way to the Uefa Champions League title last season, most notably coming back from 3-0 down against Spanish side Barcelona after the first leg of their semi-final to win 4-3 on aggregate.
Flamengo illustrated their will to win when they scored two goals in the last three minutes of the Copa Libertadores final in November to defeat Argentina’s River Plate.
Away from the pitch, the hosts are facing a major test of the country’s ability to deal with an influx of foreign fans.
This is the biggest football event the small nation has ever staged.
Organisers have already had to make one late change to their plans with Saturday’s decision not to host matches at Doha’s Education City Stadium, as there have been no test matches at the ground due to delays in construction.
The venue was due to host the semi-final involving Liverpool, the third-place play-off and the final. All these matches have now been shifted to Khalifa International Stadium.
Since the tournament began in 2000, South American clubs — incidentally all from Brazil — have won four times, with European sides claiming the trophy 11 times, including on the past six occasions.
Al Sadd v Hienghene Sport, 9.30pm
Al Hilal v ES Tunis, 6pm
Monterrey v Al Sadd/Hienghene, 9.30pm
Flamengo v Al Hilal/Tunis, 9.30pm
TBA v Liverpool, 9.30pm