Al-Ahly are bidding to make it third time lucky as they take on Real Madrid after losing 2-0 at this stage in the last two FIFA Club World Cup tournaments against Bayern Munich and Palmeiras respectively.
The Egyptian outfit needed an 88th-minute winner to beat Seattle Sounders 1-0 to set up this intriguing semi-final clash as they seek to improve on their best previous effort of finishing third in this competition, which they would be guaranteed to surpass should they topple the Spanish giants and advance to the final.
Playing in North Africa might give Al-Ahly a small advantage as they will be familiar with conditions and have been in Morocco for longer than their opponents. They are also on a run of 23 matches without defeat (W19, D4) so they ought to be confident holding their own against anyone, anywhere, especially as their water-tight defence hasn’t conceded in any of their last four competitive games (W4).
If there’s ever a good time to play Madrid, this could be it, as a squad beset by injury problems including Karim Benzema and centre-back Eder Militão heads to Morocco after suffering an unexpected 1-0 league defeat to Mallorca on Sunday. As a result, they now trail La Liga leaders Barcelona by eight points, but they must try to put their league struggles to one side as they chase a record fifth CWC title.
Los Blancos have historically flourished in this tournament and have only lost one CWC game (W10, D1), although interestingly just one of those wins came against African opponents when Madrid beat Raja Casablanca 3-2 in 2000. They’ll hope that’s a good omen as they look to bounce back from the weekend’s disappointment in this clash between Europe and Africa’s most decorated clubs.
Players to watch: Mohamed Sherif has scored four goals across Al-Ahly’s last four matches, but none of them arrived earlier than the 30th minute. Nobody has won this tournament more often than Madrid’s Toni Kroos (five times) and he’ll be hoping to add to his six club goal contributions this term (G2, A4).
Hot stat: There’s been scoring after the 80th minute in four of Al-Ahly’s last five fixtures (W5).