Doha, Qatar: Christian Karembou has called on his New Caledonian compatriots to give a positive account of themselves – and the Oceania region – when they kick off the FIFA Club World Cup Qatar 2019 on Wednesday night.
A FIFA World Cup winner with France, Karembou was born in New Caledonia – a former French overseas territory – and spent the first 17 years of his life on the Pacific Island.
Speaking exclusively to www.sc.qa, the former Real Madrid midfielder took the chance to encourage Hienghène Sport to savour every moment of playing on the world stage.
"When you talk about the southern hemisphere, everybody usually talks about rugby," he said. "It's true it is the main sport in this region, but they are also crazy about their football too. In New Caledonia though, football is very much number one."
OFC Champions League winners Hienghène will take on Xavi Hernandez's Al Sadd side in Doha on Wednesday night in the tournament's opening game, with the winners facing the mouth-watering prospect of facing Monterrey in the next round, and potentially even Liverpool and Flamengo further down the line.
However, Karembou said they won't be getting ahead of themselves by thinking of taking on the likes of Mo Salah and Sadio Mané – even though they will arrive in Doha without fear.
"It's 11 versus 11," he continued. "In 90 minutes anything can happen. One thing you can be sure of is that they will arrive to the game fit, fresh and mentally prepared. They have a fantastic team and management group."
Karembou continued: "For us this will have a great impact in New Caledonia. To know that one of our clubs will be competing in the same competition as Liverpool is unbelievable. It's the beauty of our sport and I would give anything to be part of that team right now!
"In terms of what I would say to the players – just enjoy it. Embrace it. Enjoy it. Breath in every moment; play for yourself, play for your teammates and play for your country. We are all incredibly proud of you already no matter what happens."