2017 FIFA Club World Cup: The anointed team
The 2017 FIFA Club World Cup is already off the mark. The tournament started on 6 December, but a few participating teams, including the UEFA representative, only departed for Abu Dhabi on Sunday.
An argument needing to be settled
Football lovers are aware FIFA casts a global net, wielding supreme power over the beautiful game. Yet, most erroneously associate FIFA strictly with international football, ie country v country. Club football is usually seen as continental and national federations' patch.
Even though money pushed UEFA's top leagues to the top of the food chain, regional fans remain ready to argue for South American competitions, or question how far Asia, Africa, and North America have come. And so FIFA pushed for an international club competition. UEFA resisted. Its champions were already stretched and (more importantly) well-compensated to compete close to home. Traveling halfway around the world threatened to disrupt a finely balanced routine.
Europe's resistance lingered until 1993. Finally, an agreement was reached with all six continental bodies to stage a tournament of champions. The maiden edition, originally set for 1999, took place in 2000.
As one would expect, the FIFA Club World Cup has been dominated by European and South American teams since its inception. Quality has something to do with that. However, so does the advantage of not having to play preliminary rounds. The reigning Champions League and Copa Libertadores winners debut in the semi-final round, much as Premier League teams join the FA Cup in the later rounds. No disrespect to Real Madrid, Barcelona, River Plate, Corinthians, et al, but there is far less chance for an upset when each team plays one match against lesser competition. It's a heavy advantage. No team from another region has won the competition.
In 2010, TP Mazembe from the Democratic Republic of Congo stunned 'international' football. The Ravens upset Brazil's Internacional before losing to Italy's Internazionale in Abu Dhabi. Morocco staged the competition in 2013. Host side Raja Casablanca beat Atletico Mineiro, but couldn't 'play it again' against Bayern Munich in Marrakesh.
The anointed one and his ten disciples
Real Madrid will represent Europe for the third time in four years, in the United Arab Emirates this week, having successfully defended its Champions League title. As a result, Los Blancos are the first side with the opportunity to retain the Club World Cup.
As noted, they'll need just two wins to manage the trick. Cristiano Ronaldo and company appear set to write another line in the thick Real Madrid history book.
The competition comes at a good time for Madrid. The Merengues are finally hitting some reassuring form, scoring eight goals to win their last two matches. Ronaldo will be looking for a companion trophy for his latest Ballon d'Or. The Portuguese scored in last year’s final. You won’t bet against him scoring if Real Madrid reaches the final this year.
Standing in the way is Al Jazira. A familiar face in Lassana Diarra anchors the midfield for the Qatari side. Brazilian Romarinho provides the goals. The Pride of Abu Dhabi knocked off Kiwi side Auckland City and J-League champions Urawa Reds, both 1-0, to reach the semifinal.
Should Real Madrid progress, they'll face either Gremio or Pachuca. The Copa Libertadores and Concacaf Champions League winners meet after Pachuca eliminated stubborn WAC Casablanca when Victor Guzman scored in the 113th minute.
A win for Real Madrid will take them level with Primera Division rivals Barcelona on three Club World Cup titles apiece. You have to believe only complacency will stop Zinedine Zidane's troops in Abu Dhabi. Otherwise, they’ll be anointed World Champions again.