The path to glory for the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 hopefuls was set out earlier today when the official draw took place in Nagoya.
What it threw up were two intriguing quarter-final duels, the first of which will see Africa take on Asia in a clash between Esperance Sportive de Tunis and Al-Sadd Sports Club on 11 December. Later the same evening, Mexico’s CF Monterrey will square up to the winner of the tournament curtain-raiser between Oceanian champions Auckland City and the as yet undecided J.League champions.
The winner of this latter quarter-final will then take on South American champions Santos in the last four, while Barcelona await for whoever emerges triumphant from the Esperance-Al-Sadd showdown. Representing FIFA at the draw was Organising Committee member David Chung, who expressed a collective sense of excitement as the global club showpiece draws ever closer.
He said: “This is the eighth edition of the FIFA Club World Cup, and this year once again we have some mouth-watering talent ready to excite football fans in the stadium, and also those watching on their televisions around the world. Like many of you here today, I can’t wait now for the games to start."
The wait will end on 8 December with that opening fixture between Auckland City and whichever of the three remaining contenders from the J.League crown finishes up on top next weekend. For the New Zealanders, seeing off the host representatives – as they managed to do at their last FIFA Club World Cup in 2009 – would create a familiar scenario, as they also faced Mexican opposition in the quarter-finals two years ago.
Atlante proved too strong for the Kiwis on that occasion, winning 3-0, and Auckland coach Ramon Tribulietx conceded that he would have preferred to avoid the CONCACAF champions. “Any of the teams would have been difficult but Monterrey are the best of that trio,” he said. “Two years ago we played Atlante and they were top class. Monterrey are a fantastic team.”
The Mexicans, for their part, are taking nothing for granted, although sporting director Luis Miguel Salvador evidently enjoyed his participation in the ceremony. “It was a unique experience,” he reflected. “This was the first time I’ve had the chance to assist at a draw ceremony at this level and it was very emotional. As for our debut, the only advantage we could have is that we will have the chance to see our opponents’ first match. Apart from that, there is no advantage. Teams in this competition have great quality and are all tough opponents.”
For Al-Sadd and Esperance, the prospect of a semi-final meeting with Barcelona is predictably tantalising, with the Asian champions’ director of football Jafal Rashid barely able to conceal his delight. He said: “We are very happy we the draw result and want to give ourselves the opportunity to play against the best team in the world. But the main objective for us is to give the best impression of our football.”
Esperance’s reaction was even more bullish, with Riadh Bennour, president of the club’s football section, suggesting that the Tunisians could even emulate last year’s African representatives, TP Mazembe Englebert, by reaching the final. “It’s a good draw,” he said. “Everyone is expecting to see a final between Santos and Barcelona but maybe they can watch a final between Esperance and Santos instead! We will try to make it happen, that’s for sure.”
The European champions will have something to say about it, of course, and Amador Bernabeu, Barcelona’s delegate for UEFA/FIFA matters, exuded an air of quiet confidence following the ceremony. “The draw was fine,” he said. “We are looking forward to playing against Esperance or Al-Sadd. We hope that we can contribute with good football but of course our main hope is to reach the final”.
While Barcelona’s semi-final will take place in Yokohama, Santos will negotiate their last four clash in Toyota City, a venue in which director of football Pedro Luiz Nunes Conceicao believes Neymar and Co will feel particularly at home.
“We are very happy to play in Toyota, where we have the biggest community of Brazilians,” he explained. “With them and the 5,000 we are expecting to make the journey from Brazil, we will have excellent support. We think it’s going to be a great tournament. The draw was ok for us but we don’t think is going to be easy to reach the final, although we remain focused on that objective.”
For full details of the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2011 draw and match schedule, please refer to the pdf linked on the right.