Two continents have dominated the FIFA Club World Cup during its relatively brief existence. Held on six occasions to date, the tournament has been won three times apiece by European and South American clubs, continuing a fight for global supremacy that began back in 1960s with the creation of the Intercontinental Cup.
That rivalry shows no signs of diminishing. The two latest representatives of world football’s superpowers, FC Internazionale Milano and SC Internacional do Porto Alegre, are intent on setting up another transatlantic showdown on 18 December, when the FIFA Club World Cup UAE 2010 reaches its conclusion.
For their part, the Italians have the task of extending Europe’s three-year winning streak in the competition and of emulating their deadly rivals AC Milan, who became world champions in 2007. The Brazilians will not be lacking in motivation either as they go in search of a second world title to add to the one they won in 2006. Their belief will also be bolstered by a quick glance at the record books: since the competition first took place in 2000, Brazilians teams have not lost any of the 12 games they have played, winning nine and drawing three.
Pendulum swings between continents
That inaugural competition, which was held in Brazil, featured two teams from both continents, with Corinthians and Vasco da Gama representing South America, and Real Madrid and Manchester United FC flying the flag for Europe. Strangely enough, given the subsequent history of the competition, there was to be no final between the two rival power blocs, with the Brazilian duo topping their groups before facing each other in the showpiece match at the Maracana. Following a goalless draw, Corinthians claimed the new trophy in a penalty shootout, with midfielder Edilson receiving the adidas Golden Ball.
The tournament reappeared five years later, this time with a knockout format and only the six reigning champions in each confederation taking part. Staged in Japan, as it would be until 2008, the competition ended with Sao Paulo FC and Liverpool FC doing battle in the final. Thanks to a Mineiro goal and a string of superb stops by Rogerio Ceni – later voted player of the tournament – O Tricolor Paulista made it two wins out of two for Brazilian clubs.
The following year Sport Club Internacional took on FC Barcelona in the final. The Catalans were in prime form going into the game, having disposed of CF America 4-0 in the last four, while the Porto Alegre side struggled to see off Al Ahly Sporting Club 2-1. The deciding game of the tournament offered a fascinating clash of styles, and though Inter came under intense pressure, they won the day with a solitary Adriano Gabiru goal. Deco gained some consolation for the vanquished Catalans when he collected the adidas Golden Ball.
South American supremacy came to an end the following year when Milan became the first European side to be crowned FIFA Club World Cup champions after beating Boca Juniors 4-1, avenging their penalty shootout defeat to Los Xeneizes in the final of the 2003 Intercontinental Cup. Even then, there was a Brazilian flavour to the occasion, with Kaka playing an instrumental part in I Rossoneri’s semi-final win over Urawa Red Diamonds and proving even more decisive against the Argentinians.
Rooney and Messi excel
Twelve months later Manchester United rounded off a fantastic year by beating Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito 1-0 in the final, capping an exciting tournament that had its high point in the Red Devils' 5-3 semi-final win over Gamba Osaka, two of their goals coming from adidas Golden Ball winner Wayne Rooney.
In 2009, the tournament moved to the United Arab Emirates, where Barcelona earned their sixth title of an incredible season, making amends for their 2006 loss to Sport Club Internacional. However, Pep Guardiola’s team had to do it the hard way in a dramatic final against Estudiantes de La Plata, falling behind to the Argentinians and only equalising in the last minute of the regulation 90. Lionel Messi scored the winner in extra-time to make it six trophies out of six for Barça and confirm his status as the competition's outstanding player.
Once again, the UEFA and CONMEBOL champions are widely expected to have a big say on the final outcome this time around. That said, Club de Futbol Pachuca, TP Mazembe Englebert, Seongnam Ilwha Chunma FC, Al-Wahda Sports Club and Hekari United will all be doing their level best to defy history and break the European/South American duopoly.