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Updated December 18th, 2023 at 23:05 IST

Man City basks in warmth in Saudi Arabia with De Bruyne back training at Club World Cup

The Belgium playmaker took part in light training on the field in Jeddah where on Tuesday the European champion makes its Club World Cup debut in the semifinals against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.

Kevin De Bruyne
Kevin De Bruyne controls the ball during a Champions League match | Image:AP
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Manchester City left behind a chilling run of English Premier League results to find some midwinter sun in Saudi Arabia and the warm glow of Kevin De Bruyne back in training on Monday.

The Belgium playmaker took part in light training on the field in Jeddah where on Tuesday the European champion makes its Club World Cup debut in the semifinals against Urawa Red Diamonds of Japan.

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De Bruyne’s Premier League season stalled after barely 20 minutes in August when he aggravated a hamstring injury that also ended his Champions League final early. That win over Inter Milan earned City the ticket to Saudi Arabia.

“It’s a pleasure to be here, an honor,” City coach Pep Guardiola said on Monday at King Abdullah Sports City stadium before De Bruyne’s surprise run-out on a balmy 25-degree C (77-degree F) evening.

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The champion of Europe has won 15 of the past 16 editions of FIFA’s continental club event — Corinthians beat Chelsea in the 2012 final — but Guardiola dismissed the suggestion it is not a true enough test.

“We want to take it like a privilege,” he said. “You have to do something exceptional in the past, that’s why you are here.”

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The change of scene could be timely after City gave up more late goals and dropped more league points on Saturday in a 2-2 draw at home to Crystal Palace.

“We have to improve how to finish our games, be more aware what you have to do in certain moments,” said Guardiola, whose team takes a week-long break from the English winter in fourth place, trailing leader Arsenal by five points.

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Seeking to respect the last edition of the FIFA event in its seven-team format, the City coach said the club should treat its tournament debut as a “once in a lifetime” chance.

City, however, has been rewarded twice over by FIFA for its Champions League title with the winner of each final from 2021 through 2024 also getting places at the relaunched 32-team Club World Cup in 2025.

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That will be a month-long tournament in the United States committing the two finalists to extending a tiring season for seven more games through July 13, 2025.

“I am not against new competitions,” said Guardiola, noting City was among the clubs consulted by FIFA before the decision on Sunday. “I am against the lack of time to recover year by year. This should change.”

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Now more than 15 years into his top-level coaching career, Guardiola pits his wits on Tuesday against the man he faced on his competitive debut: Maciej Skorża of Poland, now with Asian champion Urawa.

In August 2008, while Lionel Messi was in China helping Argentina take gold at the Beijing Olympics, Guardiola sent out Barcelona to face Skorża’s Wisla Krakow in a Champions League qualifying round.

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Barcelona won 4-0 at home with Samuel Eto’o scoring twice, bookending goals by Xavi Hernandez and Thierry Henry, then advanced to the group stage after losing in Poland 1-0 in the second leg.

It set Guardiola on the road to the first of his three Champions League titles, and he also already has three Club World Cup titles.

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Barcelona won the FIFA event in 2009 and 2011 and Guardiola also took home the 2013 title in his first season at Bayern, taking over in the offseason a team that under Jupp Heynckes had won the Champions League.

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Published December 18th, 2023 at 23:05 IST

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