The road to Tokyo is getting shorter by the day and on 30 July four of the six clubs already qualified for the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 (11-18 December) will be able to view the city's breathtaking bright lights following the tournament's Final Draw.
From North, Central America and the Caribbean, Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa, from Europe, England's Liverpool, from Oceania, Australia's Sydney FC, and from South America, Brazil's Sao Paulo will all go into the "hat" at the Westin Hotel in Tokyo at approximately 13:50 (local time) along with letters representing the Asian and African Champions League winners that are still to be determined.
With Liverpool and Sao Paulo, UEFA and Conmebol champions, receiving byes into the semi-finals, there is the chance that a conclusive quarter-final fixture may not be revealed on the day. However the fate of all the four qualifiers along with the African and Asian sides competing in the last eight of their continental championships will become that much clearer, setting up tantalising scenarios ahead of the mouthwatering tournament .
FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and FIFA General Secretary Dr Urs Linsi, accompanied by Dr Viacheslav Koloskov, FIFA Executive Committee member and Chairman of the Organising Committee and Saburo Kawabuchi, President of Japan Football Association and member of the Organising Committee, will pluck the balls from their pots live on Japanese TV shortly after the trophy for the FIFA Club World Championship TOYOTA Cup Japan 2005 has been unveiled to the gathered media.
All invited to world partyInitially a one-off contest between the champions of South America and Europe, the Toyota Cup, which superseded the Intercontinental Cup in 1980, has been revamped by FIFA to reach out to all confederations and associations across the globe so the winners may truly be regarded as the best club side in the world.
Japan , hosts of the Toyoto Cup for the past 25 years, has been handed the honour of hosting the tournament with three venues , Toyota City (one group match), Tokyo (group, 5th place, semi-final) and Yokohama (semi-final, 3rd place and Final), entertaining matches.
In the annual contest, the winners of the African, Asian, Oceania and North, Central American and Caribbean confederations will play for the right to meet the champions of Europe and South American, who enter the fray, apart, at the semi-final stage . As well as a play-off for third place, there will also be one for fifth so each club will be given a clear ranking.
Costa Rica's Deportivo Saprissa were the first team to qualify on 11 May, when they defeated Hugo Sanchez's Mexican outfit Pumas UNAM 3-2 on aggregate after a titanic two-leg tussle for the CONCACAF crown.
Next to book their tickets were Liverpool in a final few will ever forget. Heavy underdogs, the English side showed true fighting spirit to come back from 3-0 down at half-time against mighty Milan and scoop the crown for a fifth time on penalties.
Less dramatic but equally laudable was newly formed Sydney FC's achievement in winning their first eight competitive matches in little over a month to win the Australian qualifiers and then the Oceania competition itself in faraway Tahiti.
And neither least or last were the feats of Brazil's Sao Paulo, who, in the notoriously tough Copa Libertadores, came out on top after delivering knockouts to Palmeiras, Tigres of Mexico, River Plate and fellow Brazilians Atletico Paranaense in the final.
In Asia and Africa there is still much to play for with clubs skittled down to a final eight.
In the East, the two-legged quarter-finals begin on 14 September with Al Ahli (KSA) v Shenzhen Jianlibao (CHN); Shandong Luneng (CHN) v Al Ittihad (KSA); Busan I'Park (KOR) v Al Sadd (QAT) and Al Ain (UAE) v Pas (IRN). The champion and Japan 2005 finalist will be revealed on 31 October.
In the Mother Continent, eight sides are already at the half-way point of a four-team group stage. With three wins from three, Egypt's Al Ahli are ahead of Morocco's Raja Casablanca (4 points), South Africa's Ajax Cape Town (2) and Nigeria's Enyimba (1). In Group B all four sides, Egypt's Zamalek, Cote d'Ivoire's ASEC Abidjan and Tunisian duo Esperance and Etoile Sahel, are locked on three points after successive draws. The two-leg semi-finals begin from the 23-25 September with the second leg of the final scheduled from11- 13 November when the last corner of Tokyo Road will be fully in sight.