Photo Credit: Phototek

Following their successful 2023 OFC Champions League campaign in Vanuatu, Auckland City FC will begin their FIFA Club World Cup adventure on Wednesday, facing off against 2022-23 Saudi Pro League champions, Al-Ittihad in Jeddah.

This year’s tournament represents Auckland City’s eleventh appearance at a FIFA Club World Cup, with their 3rd place finish in 2014 representing their most significant achievement on the world stage.

It hasn’t been an easy journey to Saudi Arabia for Albert Riera’s men. A 94th minute equaliser from Ryan De Vries saved them from elimination at the hands of Vanuatu’s Ifira Black Bird FC in the semi-finals of the OFC Champions League – ultimately prevailing in a penalty shoot-out.

In the final, after having Gerard Garriga sent off on the hour mark, they threw away a two-goal lead against Suva FC before rallying to net twice in extra-time to secure the victory and ensure the trophy remained in New Zealand.

Standing in the way of Auckland City and the potential of a second-round tie with Egypt’s Al Ahly SC is reigning Saudi Pro League champions, Al-Ittihad.

One of the four teams now under the ownership of the country’s Public Investment Fund, the club has since seen significant investment, with a number of high-profile signings in 2023. The marquee addition to the squad – and no doubt the number one threat posed to Auckland City – is that of French international and 2022 Balon d’Or winner, Karim Benzema.

The powerful forward is in fine form this season, with 13 goals to his name, the joint most for the team. Alongside Benzema are other household names in European football, including Brazilian star Fabinho, former Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante and Portuguese winger Jota, who joined from Scottish champions, Celtic FC.

Albert Riera. FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 preparation, Light training session ahead of a friendly match against Al Dhaid later today, United Arab Emirates, Friday 30th December 2023. Photo: Shane Wenzlick /

Auckland City FC Head Coach Albert Riera is aware his side will be up against it when facing the Saudi champions but is confident they can produce when it matters.

“We’re the underdogs, we’re aware of that. But all of the work that we’ve put in, all the effort that every player is putting into every training session is not so that we go there and don’t compete and not try to win,” the coach said.

“We’re here to make Auckland City fans proud, to make New Zealand proud and to try and compete as much as we can.

“Football is all about competing and we’ve seen many times there can be big upsets, so why not?”

With a partisan home crowd expected to be backing their opponents, Riera is hoping his side can exploit any pressure Al-Ittihad may be under.

“They will be under massive, massive pressure. Not just to win but to perform well. Everyone expects them to win.

“For us, it is something we can take into consideration because sometimes to be the underdog is a good thing.”

With the format and qualification process for the FIFA Club World Cup changing in time for the next edition in 2025, the opportunities for OFC’s representatives to take on the world’s best will only continue to grow, with the competition expanding from the current seven team format to a new 32-team event, mirroring competitions such as the UEFA Champions League.

FIFA Club World Cup 2023
Wednesday, December 13
King Abdullah Sports City
Jeddah, Saudi Arabia
Al-Ittihad v Auckland City FC, 7.00am NZT