Saudi champions Al Ittihad and star striker Karim Benzema shy away from Manchester City in the semi-final draw of the first FIFA Club World Cup to be hosted in the kingdom on Tuesday.
The tournament of continental champions and league winners of the host country takes place in Jeddah, the hometown of Al Ittihad, from December 12th to 22nd. It is also aiming to host the Men’s World Cup in 2034.
The event will be the last Club World Cup in the current annual format before a 32-team version is staged every four years in June 2025. The first host will be the United States.
The winner will meet African champion Al Ahly of Egypt in the second round and battle the South American champions for a place in the semifinals. The Copa Libertadores is currently in the semifinals between Argentina’s Boca Juniors and Brazilian clubs Palmeiras, Fluminense, and Internacional.
As European champions, Manchester City also has direct access to the semi-finals, where they play against Club León from Mexico or Urawa Red Diamonds from Japan.
¡Todo listo! ¿Quién será el campeón del #ClubWC? 🏆
¡Nos vemos en diciembre! 🇸🇦 pic.twitter.com/HcvQo1oRBa
— Copa Mundial FIFA 🏆 (@fifaworldcup_es) September 5, 2023
The final on December 22 will be played at the 62,000-capacity King Abdullah Sports City, home of Al Ittihad.
Al Ittihad have recruited three former club world champions in a spate of spending from clubs across the Saudi League since Benzema agreed to leave Real Madrid in June.
Benzema won the Club World Cup five times with Madrid, most recently against a Saudi rival in February. Benzema scored in the 5-3 win over Al Hilal, who have since signed Neymar.
Benzema’s new team-mates include N’Golo Kanté, who won the title with Chelsea in 2021, and Fabinho, who won with Liverpool in 2019.
The European Champions League winners have won the Club World Cup in 15 of the last 16 editions. Only Chelsea lost to Corinthians in Brazil in 2012.
The draw ceremony was attended by FIFA President Gianni Infantino and Saudi Football Association head Yasser Almisehal, who is now a member of FIFA’s governing council.
The tournament’s presenting sponsor is Visit Saudi, the tourism association that co-hosts Australia and New Zealand and refused to sponsor this year’s Women’s World Cup.