The seventh FIFA Club World Cup gets underway in UAE on Wednesday, bringing the curtain down on a landmark year in the history of football, the highlight of which was the first FIFA World Cup™ on African soil.
Seven clubs are vying to emulate Spain's FIFA World Cup triumph by winning the club equivalent, with the representatives of Europe and South America the favourites to prevail and continue their monopoly in this global competition. The honour of hosting again falls to Abu Dhabi, which is staging the event for the second year running before handing over to 2011 hosts Japan.
The field comprises six continental champions and tournament hosts Al-Wahda Sports Club, all of whom are aiming to follow in the footsteps of Barcelona, Manchester United and AC Milan, the competition's last three winners.
The task of maintaining Europe’s recent stranglehold has this year fallen to FC Internazionale Milano. After last season’s stunning UEFA Champions League, Serie A and Coppa Italia treble, I Nerazzurri are anxious to end a highly productive 12 months by landing yet more silverware. The pressure is on the Italians, however. Dogged by inconsistent form since Rafael Benitez arrived to fill the considerable void left by Jose Mourinho, they will be expected to mount a serious challenge and keep the European flag flying high.
South America’s representatives SC Internacional do Porto Alegre are also highly fancied and have also had a change of coach this year. Celso Roth’s arrival in the dugout ahead of their Copa Libertadores semi-final against Sao Paulo proved the catalyst for their second win in the competition, the first coming in 2006, when they also went on to lift the FIFA Club World Cup.
Though the Brazilians’ results have taken a dip in the last few months, Roth believes they have the resources to claim the global crown for a second time. “Our players have quality and experience and if they can apply their individual abilities to the team cause, then we’ll be in with a great chance,” he told FIFA.com.
The other five contenders for the title are also full of optimism, not least Club de Futbol Pachuca. Los Tuzos are making their third appearance in the competition and are intent on becoming the first Mexican side to win it.
Pachuca begin their bid for glory on Friday against African champions TP Mazembe Englebert. The men from Congo DR have just won the CAF Champions League for the second year running, beating Esperance comfortably on aggregate in November’s final. And after losing both their games at UAE 2009, the Crows are not lacking in incentive and are confident of giving a much better account of themselves this time around. As goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba explained: “We’ve been taking a close look at Pachuca and we want to win a game for the fans and for Africa too.”
AFC Champions League winners Seongnam Ilhwa Chunma F.C. have a tough act to follow after compatriots Pohang Steelers just missed out on a place in the final of last year. The South Koreans, who fell short in their bid to win the K-League for an eighth time this season, will be looking to new signings Dzenan Radoncic and Mauricio Molina to help them match, or even surpass, their predecessors' performance.
Seongnam's opponents in the quarter-finals will be the winners of Wednesday’s opening match between Al Wahda and surprise Oceania champions Hekari United FC, a contest in which the Emirati side are hoping to shine. “We’re looking to enjoy some success,” said their captain Haidar Ali, “especially in the opening game.”
The time for talking will shortly be over, with the seven contenders for the last major title of the year about to put their credentials to the test in the battle to succeed Barcelona. Whoever comes out on top, it promises to be a gripping end to 2010.