Officials in the hallowed halls of FIFA have once again decided to tinker with the format of the association’s annual Club World Cup, the final of which is scheduled to take place in Yokohama on December 16.
The FIFA Club World Cup, which used to be called the FIFA Club World Championship, is a football competition contested in a knockout format between the champion clubs from all six continental confederations.
The first such tournament took place in Brazil in January 2000. FIFA officials intended it to be a replacement for the Intercontinental Cup (also known as the Toyota Cup), which was contested annually in Tokyo by the club champions of Europe and South America.
In spite of its initial success in Brazil, problems over sponsorship and marketing rights prevented the tournament from being held again until 2005, when FIFA managed to agree terms with the Toyota Cup to merge the two competitions into one.
Clubs from Brazil have won all three previous competitions, with lesser-fancied South American teams such as Internacional and Sao Paulo pipping European heavyweights Barcelona and Liverpool 1-0 in 2006 and 2005, and Corinthians beating another Brazilian club, Vasco de Gama, on penalties in the inaugural tournament.
Reigning European Champions League winners AC Milan and Copa Libertadores champion Boca Juniors have already qualified for the 2007 event and therefore receive direct passage to the semi-finals. The remaining teams, however, do not receive such assistance.
CONCACAF Champions’ Cup winner CF Pachuca (Mexico) and Oceania Champions League winner Waitakere United (New Zealand) have also qualified but must first get through a series of play-offs to make it through to the semis.
The New Zealand team arguably has a much tougher assignment in front of it. In March earlier this year, FIFA introduced a qualifying playoff between the OFC champion and the host nation’s 2007 J. League champion, as opposed to previous years in which the Oceania champions were given direct entry into the tournament.
This game is scheduled for December 7, with the Urawa Reds and Gamba Osaka battling it out at the top of the first division with five games to go for the right to represent Japan in the qualifying playoff at the time of writing.
The Reds have also made it into the last four of the Asian Football Confederation Champions League 2007 and should make it as far as the final, where it looks likely to face Sepahan from Indonesia over a home and away leg on November 7 and 14.
In order to avoid the participation of two teams from the same country, the best-placed non-Japanese team in the AFC Champions League would take the “host” berth if the Reds manage to defy the odds and go all the way, meaning that Waitakere United would likely face Sepahan on December 7 instead.
The final of the African confederation had still to be completed at the time of writing, with three-time winner Al-Ahly from Egypt squaring off against first-time finalist Etoile du Sahel from Tunisia in mid-November.
It’s going to take a lot, however, for anyone to knock the South American giants off their perch and given Boca Juniors’ proud history in the Copa Libertadores, it’s a little surprising it has taken them so long to make their first appearance here. But given the South American team’s ability to knock the ball around almost at will at present, it’s not hard to imagine them simply waltzing in and stealing the show.
12/9: Quarter-final 1
12/10: Quarter-final 2
12/12: Semi-final 1
12/13: Semi-final 2
12/16: Third Place Playoff
Story by James Sycamore
From J SELECT Magazine, November 2007