Thursday's draw for matches 1 and 2 of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006 and the subsequent press conference at the Japan Football Museum in Tokyo drew a glittering array of guests and raised global anticipation ahead of the competition in December.
The draw itself was preceded by a greeting from the chairman of the Organising Committee for the FIFA Club World Cup and FIFA Executive Committee member Viacheslav Koloskov.
"This is the second edition of the FIFA Club World Cup under the revised format," he said, "and like last year, the competition will be hosted by Japan. At a recent meeting we decided that the event in 2007 will also be held in Japan. Why? Because of Japan's superb organisational expertise, its fantastic hotels and stadiums and its outstanding tradition of hospitality. We were delighted to choose Japan, a country that offers all the right conditions to serve up a magical contest worthy of the world champions."
Saburo Kawabuchi, president of the Japan Football Association and member of the Organising Committee for the FIFA Club World Cup responded by saying: "It's a great honour to welcome you all here to the Japan Football Museum, a structure built to commemorate the 2002 FIFA World Cup. The FIFA Club World Cup may have a new name, but the host is the same. For Japan, this is also a tremendous honour. I give you my word that we will strive to put on a competition that will be remembered for many years to come."
A secret to success?
Then came the main event, undertaken in the presence of Koloskov, Kawabuchi, FIFA Executive Committee member Junji Ogura, representatives of the four clubs to have already qualified, plus a large contingent of journalists and interested parties.
The draw was conducted by Jim Brown, FIFA Director of Competitions, assisted by 2006 Olympic gold medallist Shizuka Arakawa and the man who coached Sao Paulo to last year's FIFA Club World Championship, Brazilian Paulo Autuori, now of Japanese club Kashima Antlers.
Arakawa knows all about the joy of being a world champion. Looking back on the thrill of victory in Turin she beamed with pleasure and said: "In any field of endeavour there is a towering peak of excellence which everyone aspires to climb, but few actually conquer. So when you do make it to the top, you get this almost unbelievable feeling of ecstasy."
So what should teams do to experience that winning feeling at this particular event? That was the question journalists put to last year's victorious coach Autuori as they crowded round him after the draw: "If there's a secret," the Brazilian responded, "then I want to know what it is. The clubs are coming in to this in all kinds of different conditions. Some players are in their off-season, others in mid-season, with some a long way from peak fitness. Even a club that looks overwhelmingly strong on paper can have a tough time at this event. So I think the real key is attitude. How do you approach each game?
"This is also a great chance for clubs representing Asia and Oceania, continents in the shadow of the footballing giants," he added. "'Just how good are we?' 'Can we compete on equal terms with the world's best?' This is a unique opportunity for these teams to gauge their true strength. The side I coached in 2005, Sao Paulo, had a really tough game against Al-Ittihad of Saudi Arabia.
"Winning was really difficult last year. Think back to what it was like just two years ago, when the champions of South America simply played the champions of Europe. So much value has been added to the competition by expanding it to include six continents, so I'm confident that whoever wins will really earn the title."
Autuori is currently coaching Kashima Antlers in the J-League, so he knows exactly what challenges Japanese football faces. "To make it as champions of Asia, we'd have to be far more competitive and determined. The J-League is still so young, only 14 years old. It's heading in the right direction but it's vital to build up the level of competitiveness in Japan until we have a team that's capable of representing the continent at this event."
Eager anticipation among four qualifiers
After the draw, representatives of the four clubs already through to the big event highlighted the merits of their respective teams and spoke of their determination to win.
Yon de Luisa, Vice President of Operations, Club America
"We're simply ecstatic that the club has a chance to compete in such a fantastic competition in its 90th year. Club America boasts some globally renowned players and an exciting brand of attacking football. Our sights are set on the top, and we plan to get there one step at a time."
Newton Drummond, Executive Director, Internacional
"Our academy produces teams in every age category, from 10-year-olds through U-14 and U-16. Dunga himself (now coach of Brazil) was a graduate of our system. This is going to be a tough contest whoever we're up against, but we're going to give it everything we've got.
Ivan Vuksich, Chairman, Auckland City FC
"Well, Barcelona have managed to avoid us in the first two games and I bet they're breathing a sigh of relief about that. As you know, we're the only amateur team in the event, but our season at home is well underway and we know all about winning in Oceania. We'll just go all-out in this competition."
Txiki Beguiristain, Technical Director, Barcelona
"The club's in its 107th year, and these are vintage times for Barcelona. We've won all kinds of titles in all sorts of competitions, but we're really focused on taking this title in Tokyo. Obviously we'll treat every opponent with the respect they deserve, and there will be no easy games. However, we've got such a skilful squad, and so our aim will be to produce a footballing spectacle that enthralls the world."