A wave of expectation is currently building across Japan, particularly in Tokyo, Toyota and Yokohama, the cities set to host this year's FIFA Club World Cup. In an exciting twist, the 2007 edition of the annual showpiece, featuring the winners of the biggest club tournaments across five continents, is to include several new features.
The main modification is that seven sides rather than five will be vying for glory at Japan 2007 (in 2000, eight teams qualified for the competition but under a different format). This latest alteration is due to the fact that local outfit Urawa Red Diamonds - the first Japanese team ever to take part - won the AFC Champions League, so it will be beaten finalists Sepahan of Iran who face New Zealand's Waitakere United in a preliminary play-off match on Friday. This time around, all of the sides taking part are newcomers to the event.
In overcoming Gremio Porto Alegre in the final of the Copa Libertadores, Argentina's Boca Juniors have interrupted the domination of Brazilian clubs in the competition. So after Corinthians (2000), Sao Paulo (2005) and Internacional (2006), the next team to lift the trophy will definitely not be Brazilian. And should the Xeneizes or AC Milan prevail at Japan 2007, they will become the club with the greatest number of successes in the competition, including its predecessor the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup.
Another notable new feature will be implemented on the field of play, with the official competition ball to be fitted with cutting-edge technology. Developed jointly by adidas and Cairos Technologies AG, a microchip inside the ball transmits a signal in real time to the referee's watch, alerting the official as to whether or not it has crossed the line. Tested at the FIFA U-17 World Championship Peru 2005, this innovation is much more reliable today and should help the 19 referees and assistants on duty in Japan this year to avoid any disputes.
Who will follow in the footsteps of Edilson, Rogerio Ceni and Deco? As at every FIFA tournament, the adidas Golden Ball will reward the tournament's best player. A FIFA Fair Play prize will also be awarded on the final day.
On a more personal level, competing on Japanese soil will be a particular source of pleasure for Etoile Sportive du Sahel's Beninese player, Muri Ogunbiyi. Despite having won three CAF Champions Leagues, he has never before participated in the FIFA Club World Championship, as his two previous triumphs with the Nigerian outfit Enyimba in 2003 and 2004 came during the competition's hiatus. For Milan, certain players will have revenge in mind after the 2003 defeat dealt out by Boca Juniors in the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup.
So whether your favourite is Waitakere United (NZL), Urawa Red Diamonds (JPN), Sepahan (IRN), Pachuca (MEX), AC Milan (ITA), Etoile Sportive du Sahel (TUN) or Boca Juniors (ARG), you can follow their performances simply by logging on to FIFA.com. The official FIFA website will feature live commentary on the games via MatchCast, plus video highlights a few minutes after the final whistle of each game.
You now have the full lowdown on Japan 2007, so you can sit back and marvel at the silky skills of some of the finest football artisans on the planet.