The Canadian Press - ONLINE EDITION
While fans around globe are gripped by Club World Cup, dominant Europe feigns interest
MARRAKECH, Morocco - While Bayern Munich continued Europe's recent dominance at the Club World Cup, it's unclear whether the champion's home continent took notice.
Bayern capped 2013 with its fifth trophy on Saturday, beating surprise host Raja Casablanca of Morocco 2-0 in Saturday's anti-climactic final.
For Bayern, the triumph at the tournament of continental champions was almost straightforward to cap a record year with the title of the world's best club.
For Raja, a victory could have provided the host nation with its greatest football trophy, just days after the team had secured its greatest international victory by eliminating Copa Libertadores champion Atletico Mineiro of Brazil.
Atletico, guided by the charismatic Ronaldinho, was encouraged by over 10,000 travelling supporters as it finished third in the competition after beating Asian champion Guangzhou Evergrande of China 3-2.
A few thousand Bayern fans made the hours-long trip to north Africa.
While Europe has dominated the competition — winning six of the last seven Club World Cups — the title of world's best team seems to be revered around the world while remaining a sideshow to domestic league play on the continent.
"I could understand that when we play this competition in the past years in Japan or the United Arab Emirates that there was less interest from Europe. We are disappointed that there is not so much interest now when we are at the door of Europe," FIFA president Sepp Blatter said.
"I think there should be a little more attention to the competition. Here we have seen really good football — this is the best publicity. It's also a question of solidarity, there should be interest from other clubs and leagues to see what the other continents are doing."
Bayern, which has waxed on about the importance of the competition all week, ultimately delivered.
But will that change perceptions, especially after such a straightforward victory at a tournament where the gulf between the German champions and the rest of the world was significant?
"People say it's not important to the Europeans. I don't know," Bayern coach Pep Guardiola said. "We have indeed understood that this is a unique opportunity for us to win this title, to win this final we know we have teams who have won other (continental) titles so we knew it would be difficult. And we did not know if we will come back here in the future. I don't know whether I will be back here, so this is a special moment."
Guardiola had initially opened his arrival by saying victory here was "not special" since he was carrying out the work of Jupp Heynckes, who he replaced as coach in the summer. Guardiola has now won the competition three times, and his first triumph with Barcelona in Abu Dhabi four years ago reduced him to tears.
But across the Strait of Gibraltar back in his native Spain, Atletico Madrid's continued pursuit of Spanish league was what drew interest. Bayern's victory was shown live in Germany only because it had reached the final.
Reports emerging from Morocco may have also turned some Europeans off altogether.
The local organizing committee failed to operate proper shuttles for fans and did a poor job of protecting ticket-buyers as up to 2,000 fans gatecrashed Bayern's semifinal at Agadir where tickets cost up to 895 Moroccan Dirham (80 euros).
"Of course there are bad habits that exist (...) and people try to take advantage," event director Karim Alem said. "We need the game to be festive and not have negative points."
Fans from the other continental champions — Monterrey of Mexico, Al-Ahly of Egypt, and Auckland City of New Zealand — may have been surprised to hear Moroccans jeer Nelson Mandela as the late South African president was honoured at stadiums. Mandela had shown solidarity for the plight of Western Sahara, the former Spanish colony which was annexed by Morocco.
"It is happening and there is nothing we can do," said FIFA secretary general Jerome Valcke, who is also South African.
The tournament returns to Morocco in 2014. Whether European fans do is to be seen.
Follow Paul Logothetis on Twitter at: www.twitter.com/PaulLogoAp
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