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Sanfrecce Hiroshima - Al-Ahly Preview: African champions aiming to reach semi-finals



Chiba, Mizumoto, Moriwaki, Aoyama
Ko. Morisaki, Ka. Morizaki
Takahagi, Mikic, Shimizu

Fathi, Gomaa, Najib, Mouawad
Soliman, Ghali, Ashour, Said

Al-Ahly will be looking to reach the podium for the first time in six years when they open their Fifa Club World Cup campaign against Sanfrecce Hiroshima in the second quarter-final match.

While manager Hossam El-Badry has put pressure on his side by saying they intend to improve on their third-place finish in 2006, players such as Wael Gomaa have implied that with famous clubs such as Corinthians and Chelsea are set to appear in the semi-finals and there's no use fretting over an appearance in the final.

Sanfrecce got off to a slow start on Thursday night when they were held scoreless for over an hour by Oceania champions Auckland City. This season's J-League winners eventually won the match courtesy of a goal by Yoshihiro Aoyama, but Al-Ahly will almost certainly look to follow City's example and attempt to isolate captain and Japanese league MVP Hisato Sato from his team-mates.

"They're physically gifted and have great technique," Sanfrecce manager Hajime Moriyasu said of his team's Sunday opponents. Captain Sato, however, labelled the Egyptian side "undsciiplined" and indicated that they would be unable to withstand the pressure of the western Japan side's ferocious attack.

But it Sanfrecce's defensive line that will bear the brunt of the pressure in this match, as they were rarely tested by Auckland City. With neither side expected to play conservatively, there are sure to be some highlight-worthy goals.

  • Sanfrecce are on a three-match winning streak dating back to the J-League's 33rd round, when they clinched the title with a 4-1 win against Cerezo Osaka.

  • Over 25,000 supporters came to watch Sanfrecce's play-off win, an increase of 7,000 from last year's play-off between Kashiwa Reysol and Auckland City.
  • Midfielder Mihael Mikic s the only Croatian player currently active in the J-League's first division.
  • Al-Ahly's last competitive match was on November 18, when they beat ES Tunis to capture the African Champions League.
  • Striker Mohamed Aboutrika (pictured playing for Egypt) is two goals away from becoming the competition's top scorer. He netted three goals in his team's 2006 third-place finish.
  • Despite being the senior player on the team, Hossam Ghaly will be participating in his first Club World Cup.