Photo Credit: Lars Baron – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images
Saudi Arabian champions Al-Ittihad scored three goals in 11 first-half minutes to secure victory over Auckland City FC in the first round of the FIFA Club World Cup™ in Jeddah this morning.
The OFC Champions League winners – making a record 11th appearance at the competition – defended resolutely for much of the opening period but were powerless to contain their opponents once Al-Ittihad hit their stride. The Saudi side will now face Egypt’s Al-Ahly in the next stage.
Just under half an hour was on the clock when Romarinho opened the scoring. His effort taking a cruel deflection that saw the ball lift up and out of the reach of Auckland City goalkeeper Connor Tracey.
The Saudi champions continued to dominate proceedings and doubled their lead five minutes later. Former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante – who had been an impressive anchor at the base of his side’s midfield – hit a sweetly struck effort first time that arrowed into the net, sending the sizeable home support into raptures as they took firm control.
The pressure continued and eventually took its toll, when star striker Karim Benzema swept home from close range to add a third. The former Balon d’Or winner – a multiple time FIFA Club World Cup champion with Real Madrid – was in the perfect position to take advantage of good work from Muhannad Alshanqeeti, as the Auckland defence struggled to deal with he Frenchman’s movement.
To their credit, Auckland City showed great improvement after the break, keeping their opponents scoreless in the second 45 minutes.
Forward Emiliano Tade came on to make his 12th FIFA Club World Cup appearance – equally the competition record. The Argentine came closest to a late consolation goal but his left-footed effort from just inside the area was deflected into the side-netting.
Prior to that, Auckland City’s Liam Gillion was almost able to take advantage of excellent play out wide from Joe Lee but couldn’t carve out a clear attempt on goal from close range, with Lee in an offside position when the ball eventually found its way back to him.
Defeat at the first hurdle for Auckland City but an encouraging display, especially in the second-half, against a side full of world class talents. The New Zealand side will now turn their attention to the OFC Champions League National Playoff, when they take on Wellington Olympic in early 2024.
Al-Ittihad: 3 (ROMARINHO 29′, N’Golo KANTE 34′, Karim BENZEMA 40′)
Auckland City FC: 0