Club World Cup set to begin with Real Madrid towering over competition
The Club World Cup is billed by Fifa as “biggest club title of all” yet this month’s tournament in Morocco is more likely to serve as a reminder of the chasm that separates domestic football in Europe from the rest of the world.
It is difficult to envisage anything other than a win for Real Madrid in the tournament which, bizarrely, has been thrown under a cloud by players at Asian champions Western Sydney Wanderers threatening a boycott over a pay dispute.
There is a logic to Fifa’s claim as the contest brings together the champion club sides from each continent, plus the domestic title holders of the hosts.
But the reality of modern football, where the world’s top players are concentrated in Europe, is very different.
While European champions Real Madrid will be brimming with cherry-picked world class talent, the likes of Argentina’s San Lorenzo, Mexico’s Cruz Azul and Algeria’s ES Setif struggle to muster half a dozen regular internationals between them.
The talent drain to Europe means that the top South Americans and Africans play against, rather than for, the teams from their continent.
Teams from South America and Africa are generally made up of players who have not been good enough to earn a move to Europe, plus a few who have been abroad and have returned.
In the wake of the World Cup, a tournament featuring teams from Argentina, Mexico and Algeria, who all reached the knockout stages, should give plenty for Real Madrid to think about.
But the only member of the San Lorenzo squad who played at the World Cup was 38-year-old Colombian defender Mario Yepes and, while ES Setif have a few players with a sprinkling of appearances for Algeria, none of them played in Brazil.
Nevertheless, San Lorenzo, like all South American teams before them, will believe they can spring an upset.
“We’re not going there to see the sights,” midfielder Nestor Ortigoza told Fifa’s website.
“We won the Libertadores but now we have to turn the page and keep on making history. We’re a good side and we’re going to be up to the task.”
Despite limited resources, South America has won the tournament three times since it was started up in its current format in 2005.
The action starts in Rabat on Wednesday when Moghreb Tetouan, champions of the host nation, face Oceania champions Auckland City, who are taking part for a record sixth time but have only progressed beyond the preliminary round once.
The winners progress to the quarter-finals – of which there are only two – where they will face ES Setif on Saturday.
Cruz Azul meet Sydney in the other tie, on the second half of a double bill, providing the Australians resolve their bonus dispute.
Sydney left for Morocco on Sunday night with the players still considering whether to participate in the tournament because the club have refused to negotiate over what they believe to be a “fair and equitable share” of the prize money.
San Lorenzo and Real Madrid parachute in at the semi-final stage with the 10-times European champions taking on Cruz Azul or Sydney in Rabat on Tuesday and the Argentines taking on either Moghreb, Setif or Auckland on Wednesday in Marrakech.
The logical outcome would then be San Lorenzo meeting Real Madrid in the final although Edgardo Bauza, the coach of the Argentine side, is not taking anything for granted.
“When everyone starts talking to me about Real Madrid, I tell them that we have to win the semi-final first of all,” he said. “That’s what I’ve been saying to the players.”
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Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM