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Brazil Wins The Confederations Cup – Thoughts And Numbers On Each Country – What Went Right And What Went Wrong

Written by on July 2, 2013 | 2 Comments »
Posted in Brazil, Italy, Mexico, Nigeria, Other Competitions, Spain

Brazil

 

Thoughts

 

Brazil has made progress since Luiz Felipe Scolari was appointed as manager last November but during the last two weeks the positive change became exponential. Five games, five wins, scored 14, conceded only three goals and kept three clean sheets.

Brazil’s performance climaxed with a 3-0 humiliation… to read more please click on the link.

The Tournament That Shouldn’t Be – A Brief History of the FIFA Club World Cup

Written by on December 9, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in Other Competitions

Part II -  Rebirth

In December of 2005, the second coming of the FIFA Club World Championship (more commonly known as the Club World Cup) was unveiled. 

As an attempt to placate some of the major clubs (who believed that the proposed 2 week tournament in 2001 had too many games, too many weak opponents, and occurred during an increasingly short “off-season” in club football), FIFA reduced the number of qualifying clubs from 12 to 6 and moved the tournament back to December. 

While this allowed clubs from nations employing the traditional winter/spring schedule to compete during their normal season, it of course lead to increased fixture congestion for those same clubs.  In addition, the prize pool for this iteration of the Club WC was set at $16m, with $9m of that split between the two finalists.  This was a far cry from the $750k promised to each club that agreed to compete in the ill-fated 2001 tournament in Spain.

This edition also featured a new format:   A single knockout tournament with the champions of the four “weaker” federations playing off in two single leg “quarter” finals, while the European and South American champions went straight through to the semi final stage. 

This helped limit the tournament to 7 days duration, in keeping with the wishes of clubs in the middle of their league schedules.  In every respect this was a compromise solution for the clubs, the confederations, and FIFA itself. 

The tournament was dramatically smaller than the model FIFA wanted, but significantly bigger than the single game Intercontinental cup it replaced.  With only minor adjustments, this is the tournament structure that exists today.

For 2005, the competition included Liverpool FC (UEFA Champions), Sao Paulo (Copa Libertadores) Al-Ahly of Egypt (CAF champs), Saudi Arabian side Al-Ittihad (Asian Champions), Saprissa of Costa Rica (Concacaf) and Australia’s Sydney FC (Oceanic champions).

The new format debuted to good crowds in Japan in early December of 2005.  Sao Paolo required a 2nd half PK to defeat Al-Ittihad in one semifinal, while Liverpool hammered Deportivo Saprissa 3-0 in the other.  In a surprise to some, Sao Paulo ended Liverpool’s dream year with a 1-0 win in the final in front of  nearly 67,000 fans at the International Stadium in Yokohama, Japan.

For 2006, the tournament structure remained unchanged.  With Australia having switched from the Oceanic federation to Asian (fear not amateur geographers, the continent itself remained where it had been despite FIFA’s paperwork), for the first time a fully amateur club (Auckland city) would be included in what purports to be the biggest professional club championship in the world.

Al-Ahly returned as African Champions, losing to Internacional (Brazil) in the first semifinal.  FC Barcelona hammered Mexico’s Club America 4-0 in the other.  The final again produced a surprise result though, as Internacional defeated what had been perceived as an all-conquering Barcelona side 1-0 in the final.

In 2007 a small change was implemented in the qualification process.  Five of the six federation champions would still be granted direct entry to the tournament.  However, the Oceanic federation champion would have to play off against the reigning host nation’s champions for the final place in the six team tournament. 

Given that Oceania now consisted mainly of amateur and semi professional sides, this seemed a reasonable compromise and added only two days to the tournament’s length (crucially, only for those two clubs featured in the playoff game). 

However, FIFA’s famous bad luck/poor organizational skills struck again in 2007 and Japanese side Urawa Red Diamonds won the Asian Champions League.  They were also deemed as Japan’s champion as winner of the J-league in 2006.  Thus, Urawa had effectively qualified twice. 

Had clearer thinking been the order of the day, perhaps the OFC representative would just have walked through to the 6th qualification spot.  In typical FIFA style, however, that didn’t happen.  A playoff game had been scheduled (and tickets and tv time sold), and a playoff game they would have come hell or high water (either clearly being preferable for FIFA to a refund of tv and ticket monies).

Thus Iranian side Sepahan – runners-up in the 2007 AFC championship – was initially awarded the AFC’s automatic birth in the tournament. 

However, since they were not actually champions of any Federation (having lost the AFC final to 2006 J-League champions Urawa), FIFA decided that they should be the club playing off against the OFC rep Waitakere United  (NZ) and forced them into “Japan’s” newly created slot in the increasingly curious qualification process. 

Oddly, while Urawa were designated as the J-league champions for the purpose of host champion qualification, Kashima Antlers had won the J-League for 2007 a week before the 2007 Club WC kicked off…  But FIFA’s rules for the tournament forbids two clubs from the same country competing (what?  the 2000 final?  Oh, surely no-one remembers that…).

Fortunately, Sepahan were not required to sing the Japanese anthem before their games.  Long time followers of FIFA’s political and organizational skills will, of course, not be surprised by any of this chicanery in the slightest.  

In any event, Sepahan made all the nonsense worthwhile by scoring all four goals in eliminating Waitakere Utd 3-1(og) in the now tortuously named play-in game.   Urawa eventually lost 1-0 to AC Milan in semifinal one while Boca Juniors defeated newcomers Sahel (Tunisia) by the same score in the other. 

The tournament ended with an unusually high scoring final that saw A.C. Milan defeat Boca Juniors 4-2, thus becoming the first UEFA member club to win the Club World Cup.

For 2008 the tournament that was once cancelled in part because it would have lasted two full weeks (and nobody really thought it was worth that much effort) expanded from 9 to 10 days. 

Lightning struck again for FIFA’s expensive, excruciatingly detailed and yet fundamentally laughable qualification process as Gamba Osaka won the Asian CL.  This time, though, Adelaide Utd was the highest ranked “non-Japanese” team in the CL (fortunately, runners-up) and took the host nation’s spot, despite the fact that Adelaide (like Isfahan, Iran before it) steadfastly remains a non-Japanese city.

This may be taken by some in Zurich as irrefutable proof of FIFA’s claim that football makes borders disappear.

The semifinals featured a spirited Gamba Osaka side losing 5-3 to Manchester United and LDU Quito of Ecuador eliminating Pachuca (Mex) 2-0.

In the 2008 final, United defeated LDU Quito of Ecuador 1-0.  Ferguson & his players even managed a smile (if a touch forced) while lifting the trophy for the assembled media.

The 2009 FIFA Club WC was the first played in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E.  As might be expected when playing in a city (and nation) with so few facilities, players or fans, attendance dropped considerably from the impressive totals achieved in Japan to an average of less than 20,000 for the first time.  

Nevertheless, one incontrovertible positive of the change in venue was the fact that the position for “host” champion would actually be filled by a club from the host nation (Al-Ahli-Dubai, winner of the 2008-09 UAE pro-league). 

The local side went out easily to Auckland City in the preliminary round, who themselves were comfortably despatched by Atlante of Mexico in the QFs. 

In the semifinals, Barcelona ended Atlante’s run 3-1, while Conmebol Champs Estudiantes beat South Korea’s Pohang Steelers (Asian CL champs) 2-1.

Once again, this set up a UEFA v Conmebol final (all previous finals in the present structure have featured UEFA v Conmebol).  Barcelona defeated Estudiantes 2-1 on a Lionel Messi goal in extra time after Pedro had equalized for the Catalans in the 89th minute!

2010 may be regarded by some as the year the FIFA club world cup actually earned its name, if only in a modest way.  For the first time since Australia’s departure from the Oceanic Federation, a team other than the NZ champion won OFC’s champions league (Hekari of Papua-New Guinea). 

For the first time an African club (TP Mazembe, in their second consecutive appearance) made it past the semi-final stage.  Al-Wahda represented the hosts as champions of the UAE pro league, while Pachuca (Mex), Seongnam Ilhwa (Kor), Internacional (Br) and Internazionale (It) represented the other federations.

The shock of the 2010 tournament appeared to be Pachuca’s early exit at the hands of TP Mazemba 1-0 in the QF round.  However, the Africans went one better in knocking off former champions Internacional 2-0 in the semis (and cruelly robbing those of us who like to poke fun at this tournament of an Internacional v Internazionale final…). 

The Congolese side’s fabulous run ended in a 3-0 loss to Inter Milan in the final, but they could rightly be proud of being the first African club to reach the final – in fact the first non-European/South American club of any kind to do so.

This brings us nearly up to date as far as the history of the tournament is concerned.  In the final part of this series, we’ll look at this year’s edition of the Club World Cup, the problems this competition faces going forward and some possible methods of addressing its inferior status as a proper championship of club football.

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The Tournament That Shouldn’t Be – A Brief History of the FIFA Club World Cup

Written by on December 5, 2012 | No Comments »
Posted in Other Competitions

Part I – Origins

It is for many the bastard child of world club football -  the answer to a question that would have been better left unasked.

For others, it is simply another example of FIFA’s money-grubbing ways – not content to leave club football to the federations (at least one of which appears to be doing a better job of managing both international & club football than they do), FIFA staged its inaugural “Club World Championship” in January of 2000. 

It was not warmly received.  Some considered it irrelevant and unnecessary.  Others believed it was nothing but a weak attempt by FIFA to usurp the glory (and gilt) that surrounded UEFA’s Champions League competition and, to a lesser extent, South America’s Copa Libertadores.

In truth, something approaching a global club championship was not entirely a new idea.  For decades the champions of the two major continental footballing federations (Europe and South America) had competed annually for the Intercontinental Cup (first run in 1960 and sanctioned not by FIFA but by UEFA/CONMEBOL).  

However, the only ‘question’ the proposed FIFA tournament would settle would be one that had for years been effectively addressed by a single neutral site game between what many believe are the only two federations that mattered in the world of football.  Many wondered quite how FIFA could improve this contest by adding clubs that were, in the grander scheme of things, irrelevant to the outcome.

In its usual style (staggering, obnoxious wealth and a comparable level of ignorance regarding the potential damage caused to others) FIFA proceeded with their grand plan to remake club football at its highest tier. 

Ignoring the obvious inherent problems in creating a competition of club teams with dramatically different financial and technical resources, they selected five of the six current confederation champions as of the end of 1999, the Intercontinental cup champion of 1998 (Real Madrid), the 1998 Copa Libertadores champion (Vasco de Gama) and finally the 1999 league champion of the host nation (Corinthians of Brazil), for reasons known only to the accountants in Zurich. 

By and large, the world yawned at the prospect of a competition between two top UEFA clubs (one of which, it couldn’t help but be noticed, wasn’t actually a current champion of any federation or international competition), two top CONMEBOL clubs (ditto), and four clubs that no-one really gave any credence to.

Undaunted, FIFA further diluted interest by organizing the tournament into two groups of four clubs, thus guaranteeing the maximum number of meaningless games.  Later, scheduling pressures also lead the alleged guardians of the great game to eliminate any form of knockout round (even semifinals) for this first tournament. 

In place of a knockout round, the two group winners would advance directly to the final while the two second place sides would meet in a consolation final.   If the term “ham-fisted bungling” has leapt immediately into your mind, you are not alone.

The group games featuring the Brazilian sides & Manchester United were well attended.  The others, even those featuring Real Madrid, were not.   In the end, Corinthians and Real Madrid went through from Group A (only a single goal differential separated the sides), while Vasco de Gama & Necaxa went through from Group B (with Manchester United losing out on second due to a single goal difference point as well).

Both finals were played at Estadio do Maracana in Rio de Janeiro.  In a poorly attended consolation final, Mexican side Necaxa defeated Real Madrid on penalty kicks.  In the main final, Corinthians defeated Vasco de Gama on penalties after a scoreless 120 minutes that featured no less than 8 yellow cards administered by referee Dick Jol.

Despite considerable greasing of the financial wheels, the FIFA Club World Championship did not enjoy a happy birth.  Neither finalist in the first tournament was a current federation title holder, and one was champion only of its domestic league (and, embarrassingly, the first FIFA club world cup).

Uneasy lies the crown, as the saying goes. 

But the curiousities did not end with the finalists.  The 1999 UEFA champions & FA Cup holders Manchester United had elected to withdraw from its own national cup competition (the oldest cup competition in club football, no less) in order to participate in the first Club World Cup. 

The FA were supportive of this idea and chose to draw by lot one of the second round losers to replace Manchester United in the third round of the FA Cup (compounding the initial error in the minds of many).  For a new tournament (of questionable makeup) to steal away a defending champion from its national cup competition was unthinkable to many.

With Manchester United having won both the Champions League final in 1999 (in which they trailed Bayern Munich until the 91st minute, and then scored twice in stoppage time) and the Intercontinental cup, one team had effectively qualified twice. 

Rather than including the runners-up from either the 1999 IC (which would have meant three Brazilian sides in the 8 spots) or 1999 UEFA CL final, Real Madrid was selected to participate.  Their inclusion in the competition as the “past” Intercontinental cup champion was controversial. 

The Spanish club was far from alone in that category, though.   Manchester United arrived at the inaugural tournament having defeated Palmeiras (1999 Copa Libertadores champion) in the 1999 Intercontinental cup just five weeks earlier. 

Yet they found not the ’99 Copa Libertadores champions opposing them in group play, but their predecessors (Vasco de Gama, 1998 Copa champions) in what was an increasingly inaccurately titled  “2000″ FIFA club world cup.  To some, it was becoming tragic comedy rather than sporting competition.

At very least, it must be conceded that this was an inauspicious start for a tournament that was supposed to take its place alongside the World Cup as the best club competition on the planet. 

Chief among the issues facing the fledgling Club World Cup was the most obvious:  the competition it was supposed to replace was still running, and arguably more capably decided the true title of “club world champion” than FIFA’s purpose-built tournament. 

Despite considerable financial and political pressure applied by FIFA, the Intercontinental cup would continue as a standalone event until 2005.  FIFA’s newest creation, however, would not be so lucky.

For 2001, FIFA decided to expand the competition to 12 teams split in three pools during the group stage. 

After the lesson of 2000, a semifinal knockout round was incorporated that would include the three group winners and the best of the second place finishers.   The qualification/selection process was much modified as well (though it remained a curiousity, with 3 clubs not current champions and the domestic league champion of the host nation still qualifying), with the competing clubs having been defined as follows:

  • 1999-2000 UEFA Champions League winner
  • 1999-2000 Winner of La Liga (Host nation entry)
  • 1999-2000 UEFA cup winner
  • 1999 & 2000 Copa Libertadores winners
  • 2000 winner & runner-up from CONCACAF Champions Cup
  • 2000 CAF Champions League winner
  • 2000 African Cup Winners Cup Champion
  • 1999 & 2000 Asian Super Cup Champion
  • 2000-01 Oceania club champions

While past year’s champions of some competitions were included, the current Club WC holders (Corinthians) were not.  Nor were the past champions of UEFA Champions League (Manchester United) invited.  Uniquely, the runner-up from CONCACAF’s Champions Cup – a modest tournament by this standard – had been invited, along with both the African Champions League and Cup Winners Cup Champions.  No-one could quite explain why both the 1999 & 2000 Asian super cup champions had been invited either.

Spain was selected as the host nation for the tournament.  However, perhaps mercifully, the collapse of FIFA’s marketing “partner”  ISL in that year helped to force the cancellation of the 2001 edition of the tournament (scheduled for July 28th-August 12th 2001).

Many suspected that FIFA experienced a general lack of interest in the tournament from major clubs during the run up to the scheduled 2001 event, and may have received outright refusals from some big name ‘qualifiers’ (likely due to the midsummer scheduling in Spain and the sheer number of games that would be necessary during what would normally be off-season time for most of the competing teams), and thus the field had been filled out using whomever was available and willing to play. 

If true, this would have made farce of the notion that the eventual winner be called “World Champion”.  While the expansion of the field to include more champions was laudable, the clear desperation involved in some of the selections was not.

At the time of cancellation, FIFA indicated that it would regroup and stage a new Club World Cup – perhaps with as many as 16 teams – in 2003.  In fact, that event never materialized. 

By the end of 2004, FIFA and the sanctioning federations of the Intercontinental cup had reached an agreement to end that long running competition and relaunch the FIFA Club World Cup as the ‘sole’ club world championship in 2005. 

As with the former Intercontinental cup final, this tournament would be played annually at a neutral venue in Japan (excepting 2009 & 2010, when it moved to the United Arab Emirates).

In part two of this series, we’ll look at the current iteration of the Club World Championship.

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