NAGOYA – This year’s J. League champions will face Oceania representatives Auckland City in the opening game of the Club World Cup, with the winners to take on Mexico’s Monterrey in the quarterfinals following Thursday’s draw in Nagoya.
J. League leaders Kashiwa Reysol, reigning Japanese champions Nagoya Grampus and Gamba Osaka are involved in a tight three-horse race to earn a berth at the prestigious Club World Cup being held in Toyota and Yokohama from Dec 8 to 18.
“Whichever J. League team we draw will be very difficult to beat,” Auckland manager Ramon Tribulietx told FIFA.com. “We train every day and tailor the players programs to fit with their jobs and study commitments. The players are excited but it’s a positive excitement. I think it’s healthy.”
The other quarterfinal pits African champions Esperance of Tunisia against Asian Champions League winners Al-Sadd of Qatar.
European champions Barcelona and their South American counterparts Santos are the seeded teams and enter from the semifinals of the competition that features seven teams from FIFA’s six continental confederations.
The J. League champions qualify as the team from the host nation.
The tournament returns to Japan for the first time since 2008. The last two editions of the tournament were held in the United Arab Emirates.