FIFA Club World Cup a gem of a competition

Tourney could be even better if handled properly


Advertise with us

The FIFA Club World Cup gets a bad rap. And not without cause.

Read this article for free:


Already have an account? Log in here »

To continue reading, please subscribe:

Monthly Digital Subscription

$4.75 per week*

  • Enjoy unlimited reading on
  • Read the E-Edition, our digital replica newspaper
  • Access News Break, our award-winning app
  • Play interactive puzzles

*Billed as $19.00 plus GST every four weeks. Cancel anytime.

The FIFA Club World Cup gets a bad rap. And not without cause.

Like most things organized by, or even associated with world football’s governing body, it tends to be approached with inevitable and necessary skepticism. Logistically, it’s a nightmare, and FIFA president Gianni Infantino’s plan to expand it more than fourfold is deeply unpopular.

Then there’s the current format — an inequitable playoff in which the Champions League and Copa Libertadores winners only enter at the semi-final phase. Oh, and the Europeans dislike it altogether. They have nothing to gain, so goes the thinking, from opponents determined to remind them that the European Cup is not, in fact, the world championship.

Now, having said all that, the Club World Cup is also a marvelous tournament — and one with potential to be even better, if executed properly.

For example, this year’s instalment, beginning Wednesday in Morocco, boasts an unusually strong field. Maybe the strongest ever.

Record champions Real Madrid will arrive in the Maghreb next weekend, as will Libertadores holders Flamengo. Arguably the biggest club in South America, o Mengão became one of only five Brazilian outfits to have won three continental titles when they lifted the trophy last fall.

Then there’s Auckland City, a sort of charming mainstay of the competition.

Reliably one of the contending teams in Oceania’s O-League, this will be City’s record-extending 10th appearance at the Club World Cup. And, believe it or not, they’re no pushovers. Back in 2009 in Abu Dhabi, they blanked hosts Al-Ahli 2-0 and then stunned African champions TP Mazembe to place fifth.

They did one better in 2014 — the last time Morocco were hosts. Moghreb Tetouan were their first victims, after which they upset Algeria’s ES Setif. They even got as far as extra time in their semi-final against San Lorenzo before Mauro Matos popped the balloon, but an astonishing defeat of Cruz Azul in the third-place match was, and remains, the most impressive achievement in their history.

City will open the 2022 Club World Cup (the date was moved back so as not to conflict with the World Cup) on Wednesday against Egypt’s Al Ahly. It’s likely the most consequential play-in match since the current format was adopted in 2007, and the high-flying host nation is largely to thank for that.

Barely a month after capturing attention and affection with a run to the semi-finals in Qatar, Morocco will now get to showcase its thriving club game during, as they style it, the Mondialito.

The country’s Botola has been named the best domestic league by the Confederation of African Football in each of the last three seasons, and Wydad Casablanca have won the last two. Wydad’s status as champions immediately makes them the Mondialito’s host club, but they also won the CAF Champions League last May.

They beat, as it happens, Al Ahly in the final — a clash of the highest-ranked teams on the continent. Winger Zouhair El Moutaraji scored the game’s only goals, but a broken foot will keep him out of this tournament. And Congo international Guy Mbenza, Wydad’s top marksman last term, has since moved back to Saudi Arabia’s Al-Tai.

In other words, reigning Botola MVP Yahya Jabrane has become even more important, and the next couple weeks could also represent his final stretch alongside teammate Yahia Attiyat Allah, who looks set for a transfer to Montpellier.

Wydad has already sold out its Feb. 4 opener against Asian Football Confederation representatives Al-Hilal of Saudi Arabia. Morocco’s enthusiasm for this event has also seen the hosts renovate the Grand Stadium of Tangier, where Auckland City and Al Ahly, so far unbeaten in the Egyptian Premier League, will kick off the competition.

Whichever side wins that play-in will then face Seattle Sounders in a historic quarter-final.

It will be Major League Soccer’s inaugural Club World Cup match — earned after Seattle beat Mexico’s Pumas to claim the North American division’s first CONCACAF Champions League. With its season still a month away, the two-time MLS Cup winners have been training in Marbella, Spain and will play a pair of split-squad friendlies against opponents from Austria and Norway Saturday morning.

In the likes of Stefan Frei, Christian Roldan, Raul Ruidiaz, Nicolas Lodeiro and Jordan Morris, manager Brian Schmetzer—fifth on the league’s all-time post-season victories list — has a familiar core on which to rely. He’ll also be hoping to coax some offence out of off-season acquisition Heber, a sort of injury-prone reclamation project.

Realistically, however, Seattle’s stay in Morocco will likely be a short one. Al Ahly are in mid-season form and getting big contributions from key players such as Hamdy Fathy, Abdel Kader, Mohamed Sherif and Ali Maaloul. If anything, they can expect a fifth-place match against Al-Hilal, who are coming off a Saudi Super Cup defeat to Al-Fayha.

Besides, by then, fairly or unfairly, the overwhelming favourites will have been parachuted into the schedule, accompanied by a single talking point: can anyone beat Real Madrid?

It’s only happened once before, and that was at the 2000 Club World Cup-slash-beach party in Brazil when Necaxa outlasted Los Blancos on penalties. Not surprisingly, the European entrants are perennially tipped to leave with the silverware, and since AC Milan ended a run of three South American champions on the bounce they’ve done exactly that 14 times out of 15.

Flamengo will try to become the latest exception in Morocco, but assuming Wydad dispatch Al Hilal in Rabat they’ll be given a proper test in Tangier. The Brazilian giants have also struggled mightily since winning the Copa Libertadores in October, although in striker Pedro and playmaker Giorgian de Arrascaeta they do have players who can break a game open.

Beat Real Madrid? Actually, with the Spaniards sputtering so far in 2023 there’s never been a better time. And if it were ever going to happen, it would surely be at this Club World Cup, where a few teams think they have a shot at the podium.

Of course, a Madrid defeat would do nothing to convince the Europeans to commit to this tournament. Which is a shame, as the very composition of club football is built from the base up — in a triangle that naturally produces national champions, continental champions and, inevitably, a world champion.

To that end, making it bigger might actually compel more interest. However, a huge, monthlong, World Cup-formatted event every four years? No chance.

Perhaps an annual, 12-team play-off in June or August that would replace, and extend, an existing international break could be the starting point. Regardless, FIFA have a gem of a competition here, even if it needs some polishing.

For now, rough as it is, the Club World Cup will shortly crown a champion — because the triangle points up, and the teams who’ve climbed this far deserve a chance to ascend that final height.

Twitter @JerradPeters

Report Error Submit a Tip


Advertise With Us