Spectacular goals, the world’s greatest players, new names in the making, a fascinating mix of cultures and heart-warming shows of solidarity. Since its creation in 2000, the FIFA Club World Cup has been throwing up stories great and small, which together form the lifeblood of the biggest club competition in the world.
Like its predecessors, Morocco 2014 will have a character all of its own and yield an intriguing mix of styles. Local fans are abuzz at the prospect of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo in action and hopeful of witnessing the emergence of a new Mohamed Aboutrika or Mouhssine Iajour, two stars of Club World Cups past, two players with whom the whole of Africa can identify.
Rogerio Ceni and Paolo Guerrero fulfil similar roles in South American football, as does Wayne Rooney in Europe. Together, they are just some of the players who have made the tournament what it is today, following ten editions in five different countries
The record for the most Club World Cup appearances is shared by three players, all of them Egyptian: Aboutrika, Wael Gomaa and Hossam Ashour, who have each played 11 matches in the competition. Aboutrika is the most prominent member of the trio, proving an inspirational presence for Al-Ahly for many years, never more so than at Japan 2006, when he top-scored with three goals and thwarted America of Mexico in the match for third place.
“More people will know me from now on and that will put even more responsibility on me,” he said on that occasion. “I will remember this tournament forever.” That same year was also a memorable one for Brazil’s Internacional, who stunned Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona side, containing the likes of Ronaldinho and Deco, in the final.
Ceni knows exactly how it feels to take down a European giant in a Club World Cup final. “It was one of the greatest games of my career,” said the Sao Paulo keeper of his match-winning performance against Liverpool in the Japan 2005 final.
“We had 21 shots on goal. What else could we have done?” lamented Reds coach Rafael Benitez after the final whistle.
Unbeatable at one end, Ceni was also on target at the other, becoming the first goalkeeper ever to score in the competition when he converted from the penalty spot against Al-Ittihad in the semi-final. As well as lifting the trophy for his side, Ceni also collected the adidas Golden Ball and TOYOTA awards in recognition of his outstanding performances.
It was one of the greatest games of my career.
Though Rooney and Pedro Rodriguez have made fewer appearances in the competition, they have both conjured up notable contributions. The Manchester United striker scored within a minute of coming on against host side Gamba Osaka at Japan 2008, the fastest goal ever scored by a substitute in the competition.
Rooney was at it again in the final against Liga Deportiva Universitaria de Quito, scoring the only goal the Ecuadorians conceded that year to earn United the title.
Pedro saves Pep
Meanwhile, Pedro was the revelation of the following year’s tournament, held in United Arab Emirates, saving Pep Guardiola’s mighty Barcelona side from a shock defeat to Estudiantes in the final. The Argentinians were leading 1-0 with a minute remaining when the wide man, whom Guardiola – to general surprise – had promoted to the first team from the reserves the previous year, popped up to equalise. Lionel Messi then finished the job off in extra-time to secure Barça a record sixth trophy of an amazing calendar year.
The Catalans returned two years later, in a pink strip, and won the title in style. The Japan 2011 final saw Messi and Neymar come face to face for the first time, with the Argentinian prevailing as Barcelona outclassed Santos.
“It was the best performance that team ever produced,” Guardiola has said on more than one occasion.
The goals scored in that final are among the best the competition has ever seen, as is Edilson’s solo effort against Real Madrid at the inaugural Club World Cup in Brazil in 2000, the Corinthians man memorably nutmegging Christian Karembeu before firing the ball low past a teenage Iker Casillas.
“It was a wonderful moment,” said the goalscorer, who walked away with the adidas Golden Ball at the end of the tournament.
Edilson’s nutmeg is far from the only piece of fancy footwork the competition has seen. Who can forget the celebratory dances performed by TP Mazembe’s flamboyant goalkeeper Robert Kidiaba every time his side found the back of the net at UAE 2010, a tournament in which they became the first African side to reach the final?
Kidiaba was jigging around in delight when the men from Congo DR beat Pachuca in the quarter-finals and Brazil’s Internacional in the semis. Alas, he had no cause for celebration in the final as the Africans went down 3-0 to Inter Milan. He no doubt appreciated Samuel Eto’o’s warm gesture at the end of the match, however, with the Cameroonian adidas Golden Ball winner dropping by the Mazembe dressing room to congratulate the players and hand out shirts to them.
Raja Casablanca’s players were similarly grateful when they swapped shirts with their Atletico Mineiro counterparts after beating them 3-1 in the semis at Morocco 2013. One of the home side’s goals that night came from Iajour, who went on to collect the adidas Bronze Ball. The focal point of a nation’s celebrations, he revelled in the moment: “We’ve made the Moroccan people happy.”
Japan 2012 saw another explosion of joy as Corinthians saw off Chelsea in the final, much to the delight of the 30,000 Timão fans who flooded into Yokohama for the occasion. Those supporters had experienced the depths of despair when their side was relegated from the Brazilian top flight in 2008. But thanks to a solitary Guerrero goal and a Ceni-like performance from Cassio between the posts, the Corinthians faithful were on top of the world again.
“We’ve shown what Corinthians are all about,” the ecstatic keeper said afterwards. His team’s performance and the scenes of joy it triggered in the stands are just one of the unforgettable chapters that make up the Club World Cup story, a gripping tale that is set to continue at Morocco 2014.