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Quiet “Rest of the World”, Europe and South America are coming

December 13, 2011

The FIFA Club World Cup has already been underway for just short of a week not that you’d know that much from mainstream sources. You’d think that away from the entire context that a tournament comprising of the best club teams in the world would be something that would exhilarate all football fans across the planet. Yet each attempt at a global club tournament hasn’t quite caught the imagination as much as the idea should. While those of a European outlook may want a tournament with more clubs involved, the idea of the tournament is sound in principle with the winners of each continent participating. FIFA’s ideal of equality in continents is to be applauded but it hasn’t been brought into their global cup competition in its totality. Prior to South American and European involvement, half of the competition will have already been played out.

The structure of the competition is one that can be questioned. The intercontinental equality that FIFA strives for seems to be absent in said structure. If anything, you could argue it simply reinforces the widely accepted ideal that the best regions for football are Europe and South America. The fact that the representatives of those continents need only win two matches to claim the trophy reinforces this. Last season saw Congolese team Mazembe break the stranglehold by reaching the final but by-in-large it is that the likely final between the European and South American champions that will be the aspect that generates the most interest. Case in point: this year with the possibility of Santos against Barcelona.

European and South American football are the strongest continents in football. It is a fact backed by the international game. The thing is that the supposed lesser continents will struggle to develop if there is not the competition needed in which talent flourishes. The best players in the world gravitate to where the money and recognition is and that lies with Europe and South America. North America and Asia are certainly seeing growth and investment but it will take some time before they can be seen as challengers to the pedigree of the “big two”. The 2022 World Cup in Qatar has seen plenty of criticism and derision but it is clearly a huge step for Asian football in particular the Middle East where the market may have great potential.

FIFA are fighting against the club football calendar and it’s naturally difficult to include such a tournament into what is widely perceived as the busy schedule that is a top-tier footballer’s life. Teams that compete in the tournament are naturally interested: after all, it does present a given team with the distinction of being the best club team in the world. Interest outside that appears limited in contrast to what it could be.

The coming-together of cultures is something that football presents as one of its finest features and the FIFA Club World Cup should represent that. Unfortunately to many, it has been dismissed as a tournament only marginally better than a pre-season competition which is a real shame. The idea deserves better.

For those of a European persuasion, here is a brief rundown of the semi-finals and some faces you may recognise plying their trade for those of more far-flung regions.

Kashiwa Reysol v Santos

The Japanese team have been in each round of this competition so far and surprised many with their victory over Mexican giants Monterrey in the quarter-finals, thanks to a penalty shoot-out. Home support may have helped but it is not to take the sheen of a remarkable achievement. Few are giving them hope of reaching the final especially given Santos stand in their way. Santos isn’t just Neymar and Paulo Henrique Ganso although they will attract the majority of attentive glances. The supporting cast including the likes of Arouca, Danilo, Leo and Borges is far from shabby and they too will be worthy of attention.

In regards recognisable faces, the Japanese have former Celtic man Koki Mizuno on their books and on their bench while Santos’ number 8 is Elano, he formerly of Manchester City.

Al-Sadd v Barcelona

The Qatari club come into this game with the scalp of Africa’s representative Esperance firmly in hand. The test ahead of them is monstrous and they’ll be given an extremely slim chance of disrupting the natural order of the global game. Barcelona is widely expected to win this tournament although Santos may prove a tricky proposition in the final many believe to be inevitable. A victory for the Qataris would be the biggest upset in the history of the tournament and while it’s something many see as frankly absurd, they do possess a team with some faces familiar to those in Europe. The African trio of Kader Keita, Mamadou Niang and Nadir Belhadj will be seen as vital to any chance Al-Sadd may have.

It would appear more a question of Barca’s desire than the quality of Al-Sadd and with that comes the overwhelming possibility of a Santos-Barcelona final: a final that will excite and bring some distinct global attention to the tournament.

For the good of the global game, it is attention a little too late.

For FIFA, it’s probably just what they want, no matter what they claim their human directives to be.

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