Before I write anything on the Club World Cup and above all else, I want to send my best wishes to David Villa after the serious injury he sustained in Barcelona’s first match of the tournament. David has shown to me that, on a personal level, as well as being a great footballer, he is a good human being, always willing to support good causes as shown by his selfless and kind involvement with the Montse Benitez Foundation (MBF) but this is only one of many examples we could give. So before anything else, let me wish him a speedy recovery so we can see him scoring lots of goals for his club and Spain as soon as possible. I would like to send my best wishes to David and his family.
Having had the opportunity to take part in two Club World Cup Finals, one with Liverpool (2005) in Japan when we lost (1-0) against Sao Paulo, and another in Abu Dhabi (2010) with Inter when we won 3-0 against the African team Mazembe, I can tell you that it is a completely different kind of competition. It is special. Especially for South American players. For them it is a vehicle for showing the rest of the world, and Europeans in particular, that they are the best and, despite not having the economic resources or facilities that they have in Europe, they have enough ability to win anywhere. In the past it was clearly a question of pride and now as well it is a way of showing the world, and especially the richer clubs that with a good performance they can secure a lucrative transfer.
As Liverpool fans will remember well, in 2005 we played against Saprissa of Costa Rica in the semi-final and we won 3-0. Then in the final against Sao Paulo, we lost 1-0 but I remember that we controlled the match and I will never forget that we had 3 goals disallowed, three, and other poor decisions that I still cannot understand. But in the end, people only remember the winner and not the details in the match.
I will never forget those few days for personal reasons as well as the defeat. I will always have a bitter memory of it but I will also remember it as a great experience, in a lovely country like Japan, with a lot of pride, a culture of tradition, of history and with a real passion for football, but with an enormous respect and desire for education, a real example to us all.
Returning to pride and to my own personal experience, it appears that in England this competition is not thought as important as it is in other countries. In the UK, when you go to this tournament you are already in the midst of competition, having finished the first stage of the Champions League, playing in Cup competitions and with a busy schedule in the league, so you will have teams who have played a few more games than you with the repercussions that will entail.
However, the South American teams, in many cases, get to December having finished their league, with enough time to adjust to going to Japan, once again the venue for the tournament, and set themselves up to prepare mentally and physically for the tournament.
For example, I remember some issues when we were at Inter Milan. As we approached the tournament we had a lot of injuries or at least it appeared that way. I had to enter our definitive list of players and the medical department were saying that there were up to 15 doubtful regular first team players. I decided to have a meeting to discuss his diagnoses and after the meeting the list surprisingly reduced to 2 or 3 players. Amongst them one of the key players in the team. When this player, a South American, discovered he wasn’t on the list due to ‘injury’, he came to talk to me and explained what the tournament meant to him. As a boy he had dreamed about it and had told his father he would win this trophy which showed how much it means to the South Americans. He said he would work 3 times a day if necessary to get fit but I had to put him on the list. So I did and he did what he said, he started the game and he won the Club World Cup that he had always dreamed about.
Preparing for the Club World Cup you are faced with a lot of difficulties trying to get opponents matches to watch. Luckily, in Abu Dhabi I was able to go with my technical staff to see the other games so that we could see the level of the opposition more clearly. The surprise team of the tournament was Mazembe. There unforgettable addition to the tournament was delightful. Before each game the whole team lined up on the goal line under the crossbar and started to pray. When they had finished, the goalie stayed on his knees alone and continued praying for a while. Their warm up showing their physical capability was another moment that stood out. But in the end their main and irrefutable achievement was beating the more favoured teams in the group. First they beat Pachuca of Mexico and then Internazional of Brazil.
The current format of the Club World Cup deserves some explanation for those not familiar with it. It used to be called the Intercontinental Cup played between the Copa Libertadores Champions, representing South America and the Champions League winners (representing Europe). But nowadays it is a much bigger and possibly more important competition. It is the International football competition for clubs from all parts of the world where the winners of the 6 FIFA affiliated confederations take part. It is organised annually when the winners of the AFC, CAF, Concacaf, Conmebol, UEFA and OFC competitions meet and since 2007 includes the champions of the host country.
The current holders are Inter Milan, as almost a year ago, we were winning the final (3-0) against the surprise TP Mazembe from the Congo who got to the final after beating the Mexican Champions Pachuca and the Brazilians Internazional of Porto Alegre.
Despite the participation of the winners of the best continental competitions, the obvious supriority of the Europeans and South Americans is clear. Before this year’s tournament, the Club World Cup has had 7 winners and of them there is a strong dominance by the European and South American confederations whose clubs have won it 4 times and 3 times respectively. The Brazilians have won three and finished second once which is undoubtedly a good record.
The participants in this year’s tournament from the different confederations are the following:
AFC: Al Sadd from Qatar who won the final of the Asian Champions League on penalties against Jeonbuk of South Korea (4-2)
CAF: 55 teams competed to represent Africa at the Club World Cup and Esperance of Tunisia won the competition.
UEFA: Barcelona, the Spanish Champions, are taking part for the second time in three years after beating Manchester United (3-1) in the Champions League Final at Wembley in London (28.05.11)
CONCACAF: The North American, Central American and Caribbean representative was decided on 28 April 2011 when Monterrey (Mexico) beat Real Salt Lake (USA) 3-2.
OFC: Auckland City (New Zealand) won the preliminary Oceania competition with an emphatic victory against Amicale of Vanuatu 10-1 on aggregate over two legs.
CONMEBOL: In the Copa Libertadores, Santos FC beat Penarol in the final (2-1).
Host country: Kashiwa Reysol in their first year in the top división were champions of the Japanese league.
At its inception, in 2000, the winners of the continental competitions, plus the Brazilian champions as hosts and a guest team Real Madrid as champions of the Intercontinental Cup 1998 took part. The teams were divided in to 2 groups of four. The winners of each group played in the final and the second placed teams in the third place final.
The European and South American teams entered at the semi-final stage. The others (North American, Asian, African and Oceania) are divided in to two matches and play each other in a one-off match. The winners play the semi-finals against the European and South Americans. The winners play in the final and the losers play for third place.
Since 2007, when the host country entered a team, they have to play a qualifying match against the Oceania Champions. The winner plays against the Asia representative, so that two teams from the same confederation cannot play against each other in the semi-finals (in case the host country champions go through). So that leaves the North American team to play against the African team. The Champions of South America and Europe enter as before at the semi-final stage and cannot meet. The other 2 semi-finalists come from the quarter final stage. The semi-final winners play in the final and the losers play for third place.
With no shadow of a doubt this is one of the attractions for many of the teams, especially the poorer ones who take part: the economic gain that can be made. By qualification alone the clubs are assured of $1 million. The fourth place gets $2 million, third gets $3 million and second gets $4 million. The winner gets $5 million making a total of $16 million in prize money.
In this competition, the first 4 teams qualified will pair up as follows:
Kashiwa – Santos (1-3) Played on Wednesday (14.12.11).
Santos imposed the quality of their key players. Two typical goals, the first from Neymar and the second from Borges, finished a game that could have been more complicated if Kashiwa had taken advantage of some clear chances.
Santos began with a 1-4-2-3-1 system, with flexibility of movement for the attacking players. With Neymar high on the left then playing as striker in the second half. Elano, ex- Man City, played on the right of the front three and Ganso, another key player, in the centre of the three in front of Borges.
Their full backs, especially Danilo, but also Durval from time to time, were used in typical Brazilian style. Getting forward often leaving the defensive work to the two centre midfield players, Arouca and Enrique, who gave the team balance. They were superior technically and also knew how to control the game. As for Kashiwa, they were organised, with good attitude and work rate with pace to counter attack when they could. With a 1-4-4-2 system, maybe they lacked play between lines but they showed they were a decent team in many areas.
The other Semi-Final.
Al Sadd – Barcelona (0-4) Match played on Thursday (15.12.11) which means that the third place final will be between Kashiwa and Al Sadd while the final will be between the two favourites, the Spanish club, Barcelona and Santos of Brazil.
In this match, Al Sadd – Barca, to talk about the tactics of the teams makes no sense because Barcelona had 72% possession so they only attacked and the defence of 3 or 4 players, with Adriano high on the wing, was almost a back 2 more intent on attacking than defending.
Adriano with 2 goals and then Maxwell with another showed the offensive capabilities of the Barcelona full backs. Their style, based on players’ mobility and ball circulation, was too much for Al Sadd who showed a good attitude and fitness but could not show too much more.
As I said at the start, it was a tremendous blow to see Villa injured which was a huge negative aspect of the game.
The final will be between Santos and Barcelona on Sunday, with two different styles, two representatives of different but most successful continents in football and a guaranteed spectacle for us all.