Football: Club World Cup gives lesser lights opportunity to have their day in the sun

The Fifa Club World Cup may not have the same allure as some of the other football tournaments around the world, but it provides an exciting opportunity for clubs from outside of Europe.
The Fifa Club World Cup may not have the same allure as some of the other football tournaments around the world, but it provides an exciting opportunity for clubs from outside of Europe.PHOTO: AFP

(NEW YORK TIMES) - European champions Real Madrid is playing in an event next week with "World Cup" in its title. Sounds like a big deal, right? Well, sort of.

The Club World Cup, which gets underway on Wednesday (Dec 6) in Abu Dhabi, is nominally a huge event: the world championship for football clubs from different continents.

Just about every professional football team in the world is eligible, from Equatorial Guinea to Nepal.

Every year, the champion of each continent, plus a team from the host country, gathers for the single-elimination event.

The winner is, in a manner of speaking, the world champion.

But the make-up of the tournament guarantees that besides the Champions League winner, the list of entries is often a trifle obscure.

Wednesday's opening game between Al Jazira of the United Arab Emirates and Auckland City of New Zealand hardly feels like a part of the world championship of anything.

Still, what the tournament lacks in depth of quality, it makes up for in exotic allure.

Also in the field are Gremio of Brazil, who have just won the Copa Libertadores, South America's championship; Mexican side Pachuca; Japan's Urawa Red Diamonds; and the African champions, Wydad Casablanca from Morocco.

The result, though not predetermined, should be fairly predictable.

In the 12 years of the current format, the European entrant has won nine times (including the last four) and the South American entrant three.

Teams from other regions have never won, and they have appeared in the final only three times.

Though all these teams are legitimate champions, the imbalance in quality means that the tournament is rarely taken too seriously, especially by the favoured European teams.

Chelsea was the last club from that continent to lose the Club World Cup, in 2012, but few fans would consider that a stain on their Champions League title from that year.

In fact, the European teams often do not even arrive until some of the other contestants have headed home.

While the early rounds are going on, Real Madrid will be concentrating on more pressing matters: playing in the Champions League on Wednesday and in the Spanish League on Saturday.

In order to get the top teams to agree to play in the Club World Cup, organisers give the European and South American entrants byes into the semi-finals.

But while the event is greeted by yawns in Europe, it can be an exciting opportunity for the champions of the smaller continents.

Auckland City's website on Tuesday included headlines like "Auckland Can Shake Up Club World Cup," "We Can Achieve Something Special," and "Road to UAE Part 4."

And the seven teams that made it have earned the right to some gloating with thousands and thousands of clubs around the world failing to qualify.

Major League Soccer, for example, has yet to get a team into this event via the Concacaf (North, Central American and Caribbean) Champions League.

Still, despite the widespread indifference to it, the Club World Cup is a real Fifa tournament and will be televised around the world.

And just to be safe, Real Madrid is likely to send out a strong team of household names, comparable to its LaLiga line-up against Valencia or Villareal.

Regardless of your opinion of the event, it does have one inescapable draw: When else are you going to get a chance to watch Moroccan and Mexican teams face off early on a Saturday morning?