Japanese fans eager for action
© AFP

Excitement and anticipation is building in Tokyo and across Japan as the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2008 draws ever nearer. The imminent arrival of the teams representing the six confederations has dominated the headlines as football supporters count down to the fourth FIFA Club World Cup to be hosted in Japan.

"Everyone on campus is talking about football," said Arihara, a 22-year-old university student in Tokyo. "All the guys in the football club are so excited that Manchester United and Cristiano Ronaldo are coming to play in Japan." Indeed, such has been the interest in the impending appearance of the Red Devils that several new books have been published to coincide with their arrival.

"Lots of my customers strike up conversations about football," said Aoyama, a 25-year-old hair stylist in Tokyo and avid football fan. "Recently, much of the talk has been about the Club World Cup. I can watch TV on my cell phone so I'll probably be glued to my mobile when the tournament is on. Well, during my breaks at least..."

We need to lift the standard of the J.League if we want to develop football in Japan, so playing teams from Africa, North and Central America and Oceania is a good test to see how Japanese teams compare with their rivals.
Sports commentator Tsuneyuki Shimoda on the benefits of the FIFA Club World Cup for Japan

While younger supporters might be more concerned with which club are crowned champions after the final in Yokohama on December 21, sports commentators such as Tsuneyuki Shimoda are just as enthused about the bigger picture and what the tournament means for football in Japan.

"I think the Club World Cup is an important yardstick for Japanese football," said Shimoda. "This tournament gives teams that are not household names, such as Al Ahly, the chance to play against some of the big guns, such as Manchester United. We need to lift the standard of the J.League if we want to develop football in Japan, so playing teams from Africa, North and Central America and Oceania is a good test to see how Japanese teams compare with their rivals."

Gamba Osaka won over many observers with their uninhibited style of play during their march to the 2008 AFC Champions League title, and Shimoda is keen to see if the Japanese club can transfer that form to the Club World Cup stage. "Gamba Osaka play a brand of football that focuses on ball retention and all-out attack, which is somewhat unique among Japanese clubs. I can't wait to see how Gamba's style of play holds up in this competition," he said.

On a more personal level, Shimoda said he was disappointed the FIFA Club World Cup, which Japan hosted from 1980 until 2004 in its previous incarnation as the Toyota Cup, will be held in the United Arab Emirates in 2009 and 2010, before returning to Japan the following year.

"It's a shame that Japan will not host the tournament again until 2011. It's also a pity that a Brazilian side did not qualify this year," said Shimoda, who spent some time living in Brazil.