Picture via Foraggio Fotographic's Flickr stream.
The Champions of two continents, Barcelona from Europe and Al Ahly from Africa, join local heroes Tottenham Hotpsur and Glasgow's formidable Celtic this evening for the opening double header in the first ever Wembley Cup pre-season tournament. The games may be classed as friendlies, but they should be competitive as there's plenty at stake.
The marquee names and the cachet of the venue have ensured that this new venture makes a big splash with around 90 countries taking the event live on television, compared to a perfectly respectable 40 for Arsenal's established Emirates Cup tournament. Many will be tuning in for tonight's main feature as Barcelona, conquerors of Chelsea and Manchester United en route to their Champions League victory, clash with Spurs at 8pm with Celtic's meeting with Al Ahly raising the curtain at 5:15. The Scottish club, who played a full strength side in a goalless draw at Cardiff on Wednesday, will be keen to tune up before next week's vital European qualifier in Moscow, while Al Ahly's players, many of whom are experienced internationals, will enjoy the global shop window in which they find themselves and their president, Mr Hassan Hamdi, feels it's a great opportunity for his club, too:
For everyone involved in the club, it is an exciting prospect to be playing against world-class opposition in front of our London fans. Playing in the Wembley Cup is a very big step forward not only for Al Ahly but for all African clubs and an excellent occasion for us to showcase our club and players to the world.
Tottenham's well-publicised problem will be to find two recognised central defenders to field against their illustrious free-scoring opponents. Thierry Henry will be hoping it's just like the old days down the Seven Sisters Road as might former Arsenal team-mate Alexander Hleb if he can get on the field, unlike in the Rome final a few weeks back. Former Chelsea man Eidur Gudjohnsen may also feature alongside superstars such as Lionel Messi and maybe even brand new Brazilian wonder kid, Keirrison. At least whoever is persuaded to stand where you'd normally see Woodgate, Dawson and King will likely be spared the attentions of Samuel Eto'o who is working on a protracted swap move to Internazionale of Milan, but Tottenham's latest signing, England U21 right back Kyle Naughton, must be in two minds as to whether these are the ideal opponents for a defensive debut. Barcelona have brought plenty of their own youngsters along, too, so there could be some stars of tomorrow on show rotating in for the well-known names. Tottenham, of course, have plenty of firepower themselves, having spent much of last season gradually buying back their recently sold strike force, and, given that Spurs have seven unanswered goals in two pre-season games so far while Barca have only returned to pre-season training this week and a handful of players such as Puyol, Xavi and Iniesta haven't travelled, there could be plenty of goals.
The 101 Great Goals site has an excellent rundown of the Al Ahly squad that suggests we can expect to see an error prone but sharp keeper and a capable but inconsistent attack book-ending a usually high quality defence that suffered with tactical adjustments during last weekend's Egyptian Super Cup defeat and a talented midfield featuring lynchpin playmaker Mohamed Abu Treika and the dazzling Angolan left winger, Gilberto, "the best crosser of the ball on the African continent." Celtic have lost folk hero Shunsuke Nakamura, but new Cameroonian midfield loanee Landry N’Guemo has immediately impressed and will hopefully provide some ammunition for prolific Australian striker Scott McDonald and former West Brom target man Marc-Antoine Fortuné to unload.