Al Ittihad cruise to victory in Club World Cup opener

Reigning Roshn Saudi League champions Al Ittihad cruised to a 3-0 victory against OFC champions Auckland City FC at the King Abdullah Sports City to get their FIFA Club World Cup Saudi Arabia 2023 campaign off to a successful start.

The seven-team tournament brining together champions of each continent is being hosted in Saudi Arabia for the first time, across two stadiums in Jeddah, where hosts Al Ittihad are joined by European champions Manchester City, African champions Al Ahly of Egypt, Asian champions Urawa Red Diamonds as well as CONCACAF champions Leon from Mexico and Copa Libertadores winners Fluminense from Brazil and OFC Champions League winners Auckland City.

In front of 50,248 fans, a record for a Club World Cup opening match, Marcelo Gallardo’s side put on an entertaining show throughout the 90 minutes and could have won by an even bigger margin.

Brazilian forward Romarinho opened the scoring for the Jeddah giants on the stroke of the half-hour mark with a powerful effort from the edge of the box. The club’s all-time RSL top scorer had previously scored against the same opponents in the same stage of the competition six years earlier, while at UAE side Al Jazira. He had also won the FIFA Club World Cup title with Corinthians in 2012.

Soon after, N’Golo Kante doubled Al Ittihad’s lead after goalkeeper Conor Tracey spilled his attempt to save Zakaria Hawsawi’s cross and the Frenchman duly hammered it home for 2-0.

Club captain Karim Benzema moved into third in the competition’s all-time top scorers’ charts with his fifth FIFA Club World Cup goal, becoming the first player to score in four editions of the competition, having previously found the back of the net in 2014, 2016 and 2022 in Real Madrid colours.

The third goal, scored just before the half-time whistle saw a lovely exchange of passes between Mohannad Al Shanqiti and Kante, with the latter providing the return pass in style before the full-back squared for Benzema to tap-in among the roars and clapping of the large home crowd.

Next up for Al Ittihad is a date against 11-time CAF Champions League winners Al Ahly in the quarter-finals on Friday.