It proved fourth time lucky for Europe at the FIFA Club World Cup in Japan. After seeing their representatives lose out to South American opposition in the first three editions, Europe finally got its hands on the coveted prize. The honour fell to an attack-minded AC Milan side, who saw off Argentina's Boca Juniors in the deciding game.
That said, few could deny that Brazil had a strong influence on the destination of the 2007 title. The Rossoneri owe much of their success this year to a string of wonderful performances from Kaka, who left Japan with the world title, as well as the adidas Golden Ball and TOYOTA Award for the tournament's top player.
Aside from the Rossoneri's coronation, Urawa Red Diamonds deserve special mention for being the first Japanese team to grace the competition, which also featured new goal-line technology courtesy of the smart ball. All that, combined with a final day's play involving ten goals, thrilling football and a penalty shoot-out, means Japan 2007 will live long in the memory of fans everywhere.
Revenge in the air
Carlo Ancelotti's side arrived in Japan with a clear aim: to take club football's top prize after an indifferent season thus far in Italy's Serie A. They opened with a hard-fought win over Urawa Red Diamonds, Clarence Seedorf grabbing the only goal of the game, but the Milan side had saved their best for the decider against Boca Juniors. The Argentinians, who booked their place in the final after beating Etoile Sportive du Sahel by the same margin, were the team the Rossoneri were hoping to meet, after the Italians lost to them in the final of the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup in 2003.
Somewhat unusually for the final of a major tournament, the decider in Yokohama on 16 December turned out to be the most thrilling game of the competition, featuring attacking football, six goals (the most scored in a final since the tournament began) and enough drama to sate even the most demanding fans.
As for the winners, well the triumph could hardly have been sweeter. With 12 survivors in the squad from the painful defeat to Boca in 2003, the swashbuckling European champions steamrolled the Xeneizes 4-2 thanks to a combination of attacking football and stellar performances from Kaka, Filippo Inzaghi and Clarence Seedorf.
The triumph was enthusiastically greeted back in Italy and served to underline once again the contribution of their veteran players. Milan were the oldest team in the competition in terms of average player age (30.7 years) yet took full advantage with towering performances from veterans like Filippo Inzaghi and Paolo Maldini. The 39-year-old captain, who picked up the 25th title of his Milan career in Japan, would later announce his intention to retire from professional football at the end of this season.
Boca bow out bravely, Urawa impress with goals
The South American champions knew what to expect when they touched down in Japan, having contested the final of the competition's forerunner, the Intercontinental (Toyota) Cup, three times between 2000 and 2003. However, the expectation generated by their 1-0 win over Tunisian side Etoile in the semi-final quickly evaporated in the face of Milan's relentless onslaught. Despite that defeat, Miguel Angel Russo's side showed they were capable of competing at the highest level thanks to players like Hugo Ibarra, Ever Banega and the pacy Rodrigo Palacio. On the downside, the team will not want reminding of their record of becoming the first side to have had a player sent off in both their games in Japan.
Third place went to local club Urawa Red Diamonds, who, thanks to their jubilant supporters, revived memories of the mood in Japan during the 2002 FIFA World Cup™ they co-hosted. The biting December chill gave way to a warm atmosphere whenever Holger Osieck's side took to the field. As well as producing the best ever performance by an Asian side in the tournament, the Reds also picked up the FIFA Fair Play award for their efforts.
Bertrand Marchand's Etoile Sportive du Sahel, who impressed with their tactical order and discipline, will not be too dissatisfied with their fourth-place finish. However, the teams finishing beneath them, Iran's Sepahan, Pachuca of Mexico and Waitakere United from New Zealand, all and bowed out with varying degrees of disappointment despite garnering valuable experience and vowing to return soon.
Kaka's golden year
Unlike at previous editions, FIFA's Technical Study Group had little trouble selecting their player of the tournament. The Brazilian Kaka, with his mesmerising dribbles, sumptuous skills and flashes of brilliance, stood out head and shoulders above his colleagues at Japan 2007.
"This title and award signify a new phase in my career. I'm very proud, particularly about how well all my team-mates have performed. That has been the key to our latest achievement," he told FIFA.com after the final. The author of one goal and three assists at the event rounded off a memorable year that also saw him become the top scorer in the 2006/07 UEFA Champions League, the 2007 European Footballer of the Year and the FIFA World Player of the Year 2007.
Voted second and third-best player respectively at Japan 2007 were the Dutchman Clarence Seedorf and the Argentinian Rodrigo Palacio, the latter the scorer of the goal that briefly saw Boca Juniors draw level in the final in Yokohama. But they are not the only players deserving of special mention. How could anyone fail to be impressed by the talent of Washington, who brought the curtain down on his spell at Urawa with three goals and no few tears? The Brazilian, top scorer with three goals in Japan, will be fondly remembered by appreciative fans, as will Amine Chermiti, Etoile's brilliant young striker, who looks set to make waves in European football.
Stadiums/ Host cities
National Stadium (Tokyo), Toyota Stadium (Toyota) and International Stadium (Yokohama)
Washington (Urawa Red Diamonds) three goals; Filippo Inzaghi (AC Milan) and Emad Mohammed (Sepahan) two
Total number of goals: 21, an average of three per game
Total attendance: 318,871, an average of 45,553 per game