Chris O (follow on Twitter: @COakleyFtbl)
Sun 9 December 2007

Your guide to the FIFA World Club Cup

Just when you thought you couldn't possibly cram any more football competitions into one year, 2007 is about to end with one last hurrah in the form of the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup.

Over in Japan, the action's just getting underway, and as ever, SPAOTP will attempt to keep you up-to-date with everything that's going on as efficiently as we can.

By now you may be starting to get a confused look on your face. We're thinking the name of this competition sounds familiar to you, but you're not sure why. Let us explain…

This is not the World Cup as we know it, but it is the equivalent for club teams. Forget Brazil, Italy and the like - think Manchester United, Real Madrid and so on. This is the chance for the big teams at club level to prove they’re the best in the world.

All well and good, then, but you're probably feeling a little ill-prepared for such an event - a bit under-informed, perhaps. Fear not, fine people. What you're about to get is a whistle-stop tour of all the key details to help you get the most out of our coverage.

So if you're ready then, buckle up and let's go - the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup awaits…

History
In its current form, the FIFA World Club Cup has been running since 2000, but its origins go back much further than that. Prior to 2000, there was the Intercontinental Cup - an annual meeting between the club champions of Europe and South America, and that began back in 1960.

The Roll of Honour for the Intercontinental Cup is an impressive one. Names such as Real Madrid, Santos, AC Milan and Independiente would often appear in the Final - played in Japan from 1980 onwards - but by the turn of the century FIFA wanted to cast the net wider and include the continental champions from all over the globe.

And so it was that in 2000, FIFA created the World Club Championship to serve just such a purpose. The competition took place in Brazi where eight teams competed in two First Round groups. Among them were recent treble-winners Manchester United (who passed up the chance to defend their FA Cup title in order to be there), Real Madrid (playing by special invitation) and two home sides, Vasco da Gama and Corinthians of Brazil.

To be fair, the competition never quite caught fire as a spectacle despite being played in the homeland of Pele, Carlos Alberto and Jairzinho. Man United's only win came against South Melbourne and Real Madrid were even beaten in the 3rd/4th place play-off by Mexican side Necaxa. Fortunately for the home supporters, both Brazilian teams got through to the Final which Corinthians won 4-3 on penalties after ninety minutes and extra time had failed to produce a goal.

What with all the problems surrounding over-crowded fixture lists and the unspectacular nature of the 2000 event, FIFA decided to quietly put the World Club Championship on the back burner until 2005 when it re-emerged in Japan once more. This time, a knock-out formula was established, however the champions of South America and Europe (Sao Paulo and Liverpool) were given byes to the semi-finals while the other continental champions battled it out in the previous round.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, it was Sao Paulo and Liverpool who met in the Final and this time it was a more exciting affair despite a 1-0 scoreline which ultimately went in favour of the Brazilians again.

With some credibility regained, FIFA decided to stage the competition annually from now on and also changed the title too, opting for the altogether more catchy 'World Club Cup'. Some things stayed the same though. The venue for the third edition remained as Japan and the format was untouched too. Even the two 'seeded' teams ended up in the Final again - this time it was Internacional of Brazil against Barcelona of Spain.

Despite being heavily tipped as favourites to win outright, Barcelona couldn't quite pull it off. They faced a Brazilian side under the leadership of Abel Braga that knew exactly how to deal with the likes of Deco and Ronaldinho. They opted to mark them closely, shut off the midfield supply chain and counter-attack whenever possible. It worked, thanks to an Adriano goal eight minutes from time, all of which meant that all three winners of the competition had now come from Brazil.

Will the sequence end in 2007? To find out, we need to know a bit more about this year's competition...

The format
Once again, a knock-out format is in use whereby the champions of Europe and South America receive byes to the semi-final stage. To begin, a play-off was required to establish the future involvement of the representatives from Oceania (who used to get qualify as of right but don't anymore - don't ask, long story) and that took place on December 7th 2007 (more of which later).

The winner of that play-off would then enter the quarter-finals which, as in the last World Club Cup, would involve just four teams. The two winners from the quarter-finals would then go through to play the champions of Europe and South America (deliberately kept apart again) and as you'd expect, the winners of the semi-finals will go through to the Final.

The contenders
Eight teams began the 2007 FIFA World Club Cup starting with the play-off, and they are:

Boca Juniors (South America)
Country of origin: Argentina
Coach: Miguel Angel Russo
Captain: Martin Palermo
Other notable players: Rodrigo Palacio, Gabriel Paletta (formerly of Liverpool), Hugo Ibarra
Honours: 3 Intercontinental Cups, 6 Copa Libertadores (South American championships) and 23 Primera Division titles.

AC Milan (Europe)
Country of origin: Italy
Coach: Carlo Ancelotti
Captain: Paolo Maldini
Other notable players: Cafu, Gennaro Gatusso, Filippo Inzaghi, Clarence Seedorf, Alessandro Nesta, Kaká, Ronaldo.
Honours: 3 Intercontinental Cups, 7 European Cups, 2 European Cup Winners' Cups, 17 Serie A titles

Pachuca (North and Central America)
Country of origin: Mexico
Coach: Enrique Meza
Captain: Miguel Calero
Other notable players: Christian Gimenez, Miguel Calero, Aquivaldo Mosquera, Gabriel Caballero, Andres Chitiva, Luis Angel Landin.
Honours: 5 Primera Division titles, 2 CONCACAF Champions' Cups, 1 North American SuperLiga

Urawa Red Diamonds (Asia)
Country of origin: Japan
Coach: Holger Osieck
Captain: Nobuhisa Yamada
Other notable players: Marcus Tulio Tanaka, Keisuke Tsuboi, Yuki Abe, Keita Suzuki, Robson Ponte, Yuichiro Nagai, Nobuhisa Yamada.
Honours: 1 J League title, 1 AFC Champions League.

Étoile Sportive du Sahel (Africa)
Country of origin: Tunisia
Coach: Bertrand Marchand
Captain: Saber Ben Frej
Other notable players: Francileudo dos Santos Silva… and various others that we were unable to discern due to a lack of details on the internet.
Honours: 3 CAF Cups, 9 Tunisian Championships, 1 African Champions League.

Sepahan (Asia)
Country of origin: Iran
Coach: Luka Bonačić
Captain: Moharram Navidkia
Other notable players: Maharram Navidkia, Emad Mohammed.
Honours: 1 Iranian League Championship

Waitakere United (Oceania)
Country of origin: New Zealand
Coach: Chris Millichich
Captain: Danny Hay
Other notable players: Danny Hay, Commins Menapi
Honours: 1 OFC Champions League, 1 New Zealand Championship

So now you know all the facts, it's time to get stuck into the news from the 2007 World Club Cup... except we're going to give you a break now otherwise you'll be reading this page until late into the night. Next time out, we're going to give you the match reports from the first few games to get you up to speed, but for now, pour yourself a glass of saki and dwell on the undoubted sense of anticipation that's now starting to grow inside you. See you next time...

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