A spectacular start to a global festival
A colourful ceremony kicked off the FIFA Club World Cup Japan 2006 on Sunday 10 December before attention turned to the task of deciding the top club team among the six continental champions.
The opening ceremony for last year's FIFA Club World Championship was held at the National Stadium in Tokyo but this year the setting was Toyota City, home of TOYOTA, the event's Presenting Partner.
Ahead of the curtain raiser between Auckland City and Al Ahly, Toyota Stadium hosted a special Fan Fest that had people queuing up hours before its official 13:00 opening time. On a bright sunny afternoon, around 10,000 people packed the event space, including families, couples and supporters of both sides.
Among the attractions helping to create a pre-match atmosphere were the astonishing juggling wizardry and freestyle football of the group Cube, and a special talk show featuring analyst and former Japan striker Nobuhiro Takeda.
Naming "Barcelona, of course" as the likely winner of the FIFA Club World Cup, Takeda hastened to add that there are no certainties in football: "Each club is a continental representative, so they'll battle in earnest. That's what's great about this competition." Fan Fest visitors also got a taste of the global nature of the event thanks to food dishes from the six continents being served at the hugely popular food stalls. Other facilities included a "warm area" where visitors could relax, and a football park for kids that proved a very big hit.
Swirling sights and sounds
This very successful Fan Fest drew to a close with the futuristic Toyota Stadium glowing brightly against a clear evening sky, making way for the opening ceremony to begin. At 19:00 the lights went down for a moment, and then amid dramatic music the giant 30m x 40m screen on the pitch came to life with the opening video presentation.
To symbolise the truly global nature of the FIFA Club World Cup, a large globe appeared in the stand behind one goal, while in the back stand a giant dragon materialised along with six shining balls in the colours of the six participating teams. Chinese music performed on instruments including the erhu created an otherworldly, exotic atmosphere, while one by one the six balls illuminated the earth like colourful planets.
The message was that, at any given moment, the beautiful game is being played somewhere on the planet. With room for only one winner, these games, just like the challenges of life itself, will always engender both joy and disappointment, but the drama keeps bringing us back for more. Even a small club can be the equal of a team full of glittering stars once both sides are out on the pitch.
In Japan, the playing field has also been levelled, with the six continental champions taking their rightful place at the FIFA Club World Cup. We can look forward to a thrilling week's football before we find out just who will be crowned ultimate champions on Sunday 17 December.