While lifting silverware is usually the last act of a hard-fought campaign, for seven trophy-winning clubs in 2013 their success was also the start of another journey: towards the FIFA Club World Cup Morocco 2013.
Having triumphed in their respective confederations’ Champions League competitions – or the national league in the case of the host nation - these clubs now find themselves poised for action on the global stage, something that four of them – Auckland City FC, CF Monterrey, Al Ahly SC and Raja Casablanca – have already experienced.
Interestingly enough, however, it is among the first-timers that we find the competition favourites with FC Bayern München, Atletico Mineiro and Guangzhou Evergrande FC taking part in their first Club World Cup, the latter led by a FIFA World Cup™-winning coach.
While Bayern already have two Intercontinental Cups to their name – having triumphed in 1976 and 2001 – this will be their first taste of the competition in its current guise. And the reigning European champions are taking things very seriously as they follow the example set by coach Pep Guardiola. The Bayern boss won the competition with FC Barcelona in 2009 and 2011 and is aiming for success in homage to the legacy of his predecessor, Jupp Heynckes, who led the club to a historic league, cup and UEFA Champions League treble.
“Winning this competition would crown the treble we won last season,” versatile attacker Thomas Muller told FIFA.com, before going on to pay tribute to his former coach. “If we win, it will be largely down to him. It’s thanks to him that we earned our place in the tournament here in Morocco.”
Atletico Mineiro, meanwhile, are another natural favourite, given that the tournament has always previously been won by either the UEFA or CONMEBOL representative. And they will be hoping to not only become the fourth Brazilian club to win the competition after Corinthians (twice), Sao Paulo and Internacional, but also to bring South America level on wins with Europe, whose five tournament triumphs currently surpasses South America’s four.
Feeling at home
The five other competitors, however, will be looking to put an end to the dominance of these two confederations, with Guangzhou Evergrande posing a particularly strong challenge. Despite being debutants at this level, the team boast a Brazilian attacking duo in Muriqui and Elkeson, gifted Argentinian playmaker Dario Conca and a number of Chinese internationals, all under the guidance of Italian coach Marcello Lippi - who led his country to victory at Germany 2006.
Meanwhile, Al Ahly and Monterrey - representing CAF and CONCACAF respectively - will feel fully at home in the Club World Cup. The Egyptian side have already featured four times in the competition, with their best showing a third-place finish in 2006, while the Mexican side are taking part on the global stage for the third consecutive time. Having finished fifth the first time around and third the following year, they will be hoping to maintain that progression.
“Our objective this year is to go all the way to the last game, though we’re well aware of how tough the tournament is,” Los Rayados captain Jose Maria Basanta told FIFA.com. “We know we won’t be facing any easy teams, but we’re going there with that goal in mind. We won’t be feeling as nervous this time as we did when we first went.”
And this sense of comfort will be shared by New Zealand’s Auckland City, who are coming to represent a permanent fixture in the competition. Indeed, they have appeared in four previous iterations despite the club being formed less than ten years ago.
The Oceania king’s campaigns have been largely short-lived to date, involving just a single defeat in 2006, 2011 and 2012. Yet in 2009 they managed to seal fifth place having defeated the UAE’s Al Ahli and Congolese club TP Mazembe in what was a huge triumph for the amateur club.
Stars both past and present
Lastly, Raja Casablanca’s experience in the competition is limited to just one previous showing, although the host nation champions can be proud to have taken part in the inaugural edition of the competition in Brazil in 2000.
On that occasion they fell to three defeats, but 13 years on the results pale in comparison to the fond memories they gained. “If you ask any Moroccan about the 2000 competition they will mention the clash against Real Madrid – a match we still talk about today on social networks and which was the top-selling sporting video in Morocco,” Raja captain Mouhcine Moutouali told FIFA.com, referring to their 3-2 defeat. “We’ll never forget that match, we showed that we’re an international class team against Fernando Hierro, Iker Casillas and the other Madrid stars.”
This time around, fans of the Green Eagles – and indeed Moroccans in general – will certainly not be disappointed by the number of stars on display as they fill the stands in Marrakech and Agadir. Bayern are bringing a full complement of stars – with the exception of the injured Arjen Robben – including Franck Ribery, Mario Gotze, Manuel Neuer and Philipp Lahm.
Atletico Mineiro, meanwhile, can boast Brazilian internationals Jo, Rever and Gilberto Silva among their ranks, as well as one of the most famous players of the last decade in the form of Ronaldinho. Furthermore, the Monterrey squad is equally mouth-watering with Chile’s Humberto Suazo, Argentina’s Cesar Delgado and Mexico’s Ricardo Osorio all internationals.
Finally, it will be worth keeping a close eye on Al Ahly’s matches to savour the attacking prowess of one of Egypt’s greatest ever players, Mohamed Aboutrika, for the last time before he hangs up his boots after the competition. Can you imagine a more fitting farewell tournament?
With the players ready to kick off proceedings on the 11 December, the tournament is perfectly poised. Ensure that you don’t miss a thing with FIFA.com.