Rafa Benítez may be struggling at Stamford Bridge but his counterpart at Al Ahly manages a team who have not played a league game in 10 months
If Rafael Benítez thinks he has problems Chelsea's manager should have a chat to Hossam El-Badry in Japan next week. Like Benítez, the Al Ahly coach is fairly new to his job but, unlike the Spaniard, he faces the peculiar problem of being in charge of a team who last played a league game in February.
As the African champions, the Cairo club are representing that confederation in the Club World Cup despite a singular lack of matches in Egypt for nearly 10 months.
Everything ground to a halt following the Port Said stadium disaster last February. Immediately after Al-Masry, the local team, beat Al Ahly 3-1, home supporters invaded the pitch armed with swords, knives and stones before attacking Al Ahly fans. At least 74 people died, scores more were injured and there has been no league football in Egypt since.
Although a date has been set for its resumption later this month not everyone is overly optimistic that the league will actually kick-off as scheduled. When an autumn restart was mooted, angry Al Ahly "Ultras" stormed the offices of the Egyptian FA demanding a postponement until trials of those accused of causing the carnage were completed.
Not surprisingly José Manuel, Al Ahly's Portuguese coach, resigned. "I have to think about my life," he said. "I was beaten with fists and kicks to the head and legs. Fans fled to our dressing room and died in there." Cue El-Badry, last seen managing in Sudan, returning for a second stint in charge of a club restricted to playing friendlies and African Champions League games.
Captained by Hossam Ghaly, once of Tottenham, the Egyptians enter the seven-team World Cub contest at the so-called quarter-final stage, where they meet the winners of Thursday's tournament curtain raiser between Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Auckland City.
The current traumas involved in Egypt's tricky transition to democracy pale into insignificance next to the events of Monday 6 August 1945 in Hiroshima, when at 8.15am late in the second world war the United States dropped an atomic bomb on the western Japanese city. Estimates place the death toll somewhere between 80,000 and 140,000 and many thousands more suffering horribly from the effects of radiation.
More than half a century on, the Oleander is the official flower of Hiroshima in recognition of it being the first flower to grow again after the bomb and Sanfrecce Hiroshima are the J-League champions who, in Hisato Sato, possess the most feared striker in Japan.
They trust Sato's left foot will see off Auckland and Al Ahly to set up a semi-final with Corinthians of Brazil next Wednesday. Chelsea, too, enter in the penultimate round and will meet either Ulsan Hyundai of South Korea or Mexico's CF Monterrey next Thursday.
By then television viewers may have enjoyed Sanfrecce's trademark goal celebration which sees the entire team line up, drop to one knee and take imaginary aim as if they were archers holding bows and arrows.
An explanation as to why is contained in the club's name. San is the Japanese number for three while frecce derives from an Italian word for arrows. It originates from the ancient story of Mori Motonari, who told his three sons that while a single arrow could easily be snapped, three arrows held tightly together would not be broken. The message was that, for the good of their family, their clan and its retainers they should stay united.
As the only semi-professionals involved in the Club World Cup Auckland City, a club who consider attendances of more than 3,000 bumper crowds, face a fairly formidable task on Thursday. Auckland may just have been voted the third best place in the world to live by Mercer's 2012 quality of living survey – the city comes in behind Vienna and Zürich but ahead of Munich and Vancouver – but it hardly ranks as a football hotbed.
Auckland City, though, do possess a trio of potentially key Spanish influences. Coached by a Catalan, Ramon Tribulietx, their team includes Albert Riera. Not to be confused with the former Liverpool player, Riera was a former ambulance driver and lower division midfielder in northern Spain who joined Auckland during a supposed gap year intended to be spent travelling the world and learning English. Instead he ended up staying put in New Zealand and, in exchange for fluency in a new language, is helping introduce Auckland's squad to tiki-taka.
If Riera helps his team-mates retain possession, Manel Expósito brings them goals. A former Barcelona striker, he made his first-team debut at Barça on the same day as Lionel Messi (16 November 2003) against José Mourinho's Porto but saw a promising career halted by injuries so serious they prompted him to seek a new life on the other side of the world.
"One day I was at Barça and I thought I'd be playing my entire life in La Liga and then suddenly I got hurt and everything changed," says Expósito. Now though life is finally looking up again. "I still have friends at Barça, although obviously not Messi and Xavi because they live in another world," he says. "And they are all very jealous because the Club World Cup is huge in Spain."
The best goals in the competition's history:
British clubs do not have a great record in the Club World Cup or its forerunner, the Intercontinental Cup. In 1967, Celtic became the first British side to play in the competition, against Racing. The tie is still remembered as one of the most violent in the sport's history. After drawing 2-2 over two legs, a third match was played in Montevideo. Celtic lost 1-0 and had four men sent off. The manner of Celtic's performance reportedly cost Jock Stein his knighthood in the New Year honours list. This Celtic TV documentary, the Battle of Montevideo, tells the story from the point of view of the Celtic players.
Manchester United became the first English team to play in the Cup in 1968. United lost to Estudiantes over two legs. The tie was decided by points rather than aggregate score, with the Argentinian side winning three points to one due to their 1-0 win in Buenos Aires and a 1-1 draw in Old Trafford. The tie was almost as brutal as Celtic's the year before; Nobby Stiles was sent off in the first leg and George Best went in the second. As the match ended, the Old Trafford crowd booed and the players scuffled on the field. Surprisingly, United became the first British team to win the competition in 1999, with Nottingham Forest (1980) Liverpool (1981, 1984) and Aston Villa (1982) all losing to South American opposition. United went on to win the competition again in 2008 and remain the only British winners.