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Club World Cup | First Round
Dec 12, 2023 at 6pm UK
King Abdullah Sports City
Al Ittihad
3 - 0
Auckland City
Romarinho (29'), Kante (34'), Benzema (40')
FT(HT: 3-0)

Preview: Al Ittihad vs. Auckland City - prediction, team news, lineups

Sports Mole previews Tuesday's Club World Cup clash between Al Ittihad and Auckland City, including predictions, team news and possible lineups.

The 2023 FIFA Club World Cup kicks off on Tuesday, with Al Ittihad taking on Auckland City at the King Abdullah Sports City Stadium for a place in the second round.

This year's first-round clash pits the star-studded Saudi Arabian side against the New Zealand outfit keen to replicate their 2014 heroics in Jeddah.

Match preview

Al Ittihad's N'Golo Kante pictured on September 1, 2023 © Reuters

Marcelo Gallardo is not a month into the job with Al Ittihad, but the two-time Copa Libertadores winner seeks to guide the Tigers to a respectable round in this year's Club World Cup.

They must defeat the 2023 OFC Champions League winners to avoid an early exit as hosts, an eventuality that appears unlikely given the quality at the Argentine's disposal.

Karim Benzema is the undoubted standout player of last season's Saudi Pro League winners, with the Frenchman returning from injury just in time for this year's competition, and they hope the ex-Real Madrid striker's previous experience of winning the tournament is to their favour.

Joining the experienced centre-forward are N'Golo Kante and Fabinho, two previous winners with Chelsea and Liverpool, whose midfield expertise could be pivotal to how far Al Ittihad go in the tournament.

That expectedly puts pressure on Gallardo, whom the jury is still out on his ability to get his message across outside of Argentina, and securing the victory over Auckland City keeps supporters on-side.

Auckland City players huddle before the match on February 1, 2023© Reuters

Their opponents are not expected to be welcoming due to a desire to match their 2014 success in this competition, when they claimed third place.

Nine years after nearly facing Real Madrid in the decider in Marrakesh, the Navy Blues are keen to record a statement victory on Tuesday, with the winner facing African champions Al Ahly.

Albert Riera's troops have had an extended period of rest since their last match at the end of November, getting a timely breather after suffering three straight defeats — 3-1 and 2-0 defeats to Wellington Olympic and a 3-2 against Christchurch United.

The recent 2-0 loss was the first time City have failed to score since Eastern Suburbs held them to a goalless game in April, underscoring the anomalous score against Wellington.

Finding the back of the net is imperative for a club keen to stun the competition on the first day, and they must play without fear to eliminate Benzema and co.

Al Ittihad form (all competitions):

Auckland City form (all competitions):
  • W
  • W
  • W
  • L
  • L
  • L

Team News

Al-Ittihad new signing Karim Benzema waves to fans as he holds the Ballon d'Or trophy during his presentation on June 7, 2023© Reuters

Luiz Felipe suffered a muscle tear in Al Ittihad's 3-1 defeat by Damac on December 7, ruling out the defender for Tuesday's clash; Benzema and Romarinho are back in training and could start for the Saudi side as Gallardo seeks to make it to the next round.

The ex-Real Madrid striker has four goals in the tournament's history, only five players have more, and his next strike takes him level with Cesar Delgado, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi.

Riera has the full complement of his squad for this week's first-round tie and could utilise a 4-5-1 formation.

Cameron Howieson and Dylan Manickum could provide City with the match-winning quality required to outdo the expensively assembled Al Ittihad.

Al Ittihad possible starting lineup:
Grohe; Alshanqiti, Hawsawi, Hegazy, Bamsaud; Kante, Fabinho; Alamri, Coronado, Jota; Benzema

Auckland City possible starting lineup:
Tracey; Vale, Mitchell, Lee, Lobo; Garriga, D. Heijer, Howieson, Ilich, Manickum; Kilkolly

SM words green background

We say: Al Ittihad 2-1 Auckland City

While Auckland's ambition to match their 2014 success, Al Ittihad's home advantage and the return of Benzema should see the Tigers secure progress to the next round.

For data analysis of the most likely results, scorelines and more for this match please click here.

Top tip

Our expert tipster partners at are predicting under 3.5 goals in this match. Click here to find out what else they are predicting for this game and for more of their tried-and-tested football tips.Under 3.5:data

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