Fifa has praised Abu Dhabi’s hosting of the rescheduled 2021 Fifa Club World Cup and said that the proposed expansion of future editions is crucial in restoring the tournament's competitive balance.
Abu Dhabi staged the seven-team event earlier this month after original hosts Japan withdrew, with Chelsea crowned champions on February 12 following their extra-time victory against Brazil’s Palmeiras at the Mohamed bin Zayed Stadium.
The third-placed play-off was contested earlier in the evening at Al Nahyan Stadium, where Egypt’s Al Ahly defeated Saudi Arabia’s Al Hilal 4-0 to seal bronze. UAE champions Al Jazira, Tahiti's AS Pirae and Mexico's Monterrey comprised the competition's other three teams.
This year marked the fifth time the Club World Cup has been held in the capital, after successful editions in 2009, 2010, 2017 and 2018. Organisers said the tournament was attended by more than 135,000 spectators across its eight matches.
Speaking last week during a visit to the Football Association, Fifa general secretary Fatma Samoura said: “I heard it’s only in Abu Dhabi where you can have two finals staged in the one evening and this is definitely true.
“Abu Dhabi hosted this Fifa Club World Cup for a fifth time, but I was here during the fourth edition and I could see the investment in terms of innovation, but also in terms of infrastructure that the authorities in the country have decided to put into football.
“That means that they not only understand the power of football to bring joy and smile in the faces of young children and also grown-ups, but also the importance it plays in society.
"[The tournament's final day] was definitely a good demonstration for Abu Dhabi and for the Emirates on how all together we fought that scare and that fear that the Covid pandemic has imposed on us over the past 18 months.”
Chelsea vs Palmeiras ratings
Fifa president Gianni Infantino’s long-held ambition to increase the Club World Cup to 24 teams was to come to fruition last year – the expanded edition was slated for China last summer - however it was pushed back after both the 2020 European Championship and 2020 Copa America were delayed because of the pandemic. The past nine Club World Cups have been won by the tournament’s European representatives.
On the proposed 24-team event, Samoura said: “This is not a new idea. This has been tabled by the Fifa president since the day he was elected. He wants this Fifa Club World Cup format to be changed, and to see definitely between 24 and even more clubs playing at the highest level.
“We want a better balance between European clubs and the rest of the world, because football as we all know is the most popular sport, especially in this part of the world.
“And by knowing in advance that, no matter what, the trophy will be lifted by only one confederation in the long run could also be a source of demotivation. But by having more clubs playing at an equal level there is a possibility one day to have more people enjoying the game, because they will be supporting and coming [to matches] like we saw with the Palmeiras fans.
"And we want also that there is more hope for other confederations; that the Africans can come and think that they have a chance, that the North Americans can also come and play this competition and think they have a lot of chance.
“This is subject to discussion, like the biannual World Cup. As the president of Fifa said: Fifa is an open-door organisation. We have no taboo; all the subjects that are brought on the table by the member associations need to be given due consideration.
“We are hopeful that one day people will only look at the interests of football and the football fans and not only their own interests. And this day will happen when every single confederation in the world will be able to bring in more clubs.”
As for when the expanded Club World Cup would be launched, with 2024 mooted, Samoura said: “We are not in a hurry. There is no rush. We don't have a deadline saying that we want to impose it. Yes, there was a proposal to start to stage it in 2024, but if it is not possible in 2024, we can have it in 2025 or 2026.
“But what we want is to make sure it brings the level of traction that we would like to see in club football.”