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FIFA Club World Cup: Japan 2011

The eighth FIFA Club World Cup, a competition that pits the champions of all six continental confederations against one another, is underway in Japan. Total Football's Steve Moorhouse takes a look at each club aiming to become the best club team in world football.

This year sees European champions Barcelona face Santos of Brazil, Al-Sadd of Qatar, New Zealanders Auckland City, Tunisian-based Esperance Sportive de Tunis, Mexican side Club de Futbol Monterrey and recently crowned Japanese champions Kashiwa Reysol.

The matches will be played at both the Toyota Stadium and the 72,000 capacity International Stadium Yokohama, which will host the final.

Kicking off on December 8, the curtain raiser for this year’s tournament is between Kashiwa Reysol and Auckland City, before big guns Barcelona and Santos enter the tournament at the semi-final stage one week later. In the last four Club World Cups the winners have been the side from Europe, so there will need to be a big upset this year for that to change.

Al-Sadd

Al-Sadd, the Doha-based giants of Qatari football, are the only team from the country to win the AFC Champions League and thus qualify for the Club World Cup.

The club have won an impressive 30 domestic titles, along with two AFC Champions League titles (the first of which came in 1989 when the competition was known as the Asian Club Championship).

The club, managed by Jorge Fossati, have a number of recognisable faces amongst their ranks. Followers of the Premier League will remember former Portsmouth man Nadir Belhadj, whose penalty in the AFC Champions League final assured Al-Sadd a place in Japan.

Other players to watch are former Marseille forward Mamadou Niang and the former Lyon and Galatasaray attacker Kader Keita. 

The team will enter the competition in the quarter-finals, where they will play against Esperance Sportive de Tunis for the right to play Barcelona. 

Auckland City

Despite only being founded in 2004 this team from New Zealand have already competed in two Club World Cups, most recently in 2009.

Having won three domestic titles in four years, whilst finishing in a very respectable fifth place in the 2009 Club World Cup, success was hard to come by in 2010.

However, the Kiwis regained the OFC Champions League with a resounding 6-1 aggregate thumping of Amicale in the final.

Auckland will open the competition against host side Kashiwa Reysol and, with the help of defender Ivan Vicelich, who is New Zealand’s most capped player, will be hoping to make it through to the quarter-final stage.

Barcelona

Unquestionably the favourites to win the competition, the kings of European football will be expecting to be crowned the best team of club football by the end of this tournament.

Having outplayed Manchester United during the Champions League final, few people would be backing against the likes of Lionel Messi, David Villa, Xavi and Andres Iniesta to leave Japan without another trophy.

The Catalans last won the trophy in 2009, beating Estudiantes 2-1 after extra time. However, in 2006, the team lost 1-0 to Brazilian side Internacional. Could another Brazilian side bring misery to Barcelona on Japanese soil again? 

Club de Futbol Monterrey

The winners of the CONCACAF Champions League are in Japan after an upturn in fortune over the last decade.

The Mexicans, managed by Victor Vucetich, have a high work ethic mixed with a solid team spirit. This combination has helped the side win back-to-back Apertura titles in 2009 and 2010.

The team will play their first game in the competition at the quarter-final stage against the winner of Auckland and Kashiwa, and whoever they come up against will have to stop their clinical Chilean striker Humberto Suazo.

Esperance Sportive de Tunis

Esperance are quite simply the daddies of Tunisian football. In the past 20 years alone the club have won 14 league titles, seven Tunisian cups and two super cups.

In the CAF Champions League final, they beat Wydad Casablanca to seal a historic treble and ensure their participation in this year’s Club World Cup.

Manager Nabil Maaloul has created a team that is made up of largely home-grown players and one player to watch is 24-year old attacking playmaker and club captain Oussama Darragi. Darragi is a part of the Tunisian national team and it’s no surprise he is considered one of the countries brightest young talents.

Esperance are set to face Al-Sadd in a quarter-final on December 11 in Toyota City. If the Tunisians can successfully navigate their way past the Qatari side, a massive game against Barcelona will await them.

Kashiwa Reysol

Kashiwa Reysol have barely completed their season in the J League but, just under a week after securing the title with a 3-1 win against Urawa Red Diamonds, the Japanese side will be playing against Auckland City in the play-off for a quarter-final spot at the Club World Cup.

The side have a mixed recent history; relegations, promotions and titles all make up the club’s last ten years.

The arrival of manager Nelsinho has helped change the fortunes of the club. They re-wrote the record books when they became the first Japanese side to win both League 2 and the first tier championship in back-to-back seasons. Imagine Queens Park Rangers winning the Premier League this year!

Nelsinho made major changes in personnel to help change the fortunes of the club and one player, Brazilian attacking midfielder Jorge Wagner, will be looking forward to the tournament perhaps more than most.

He made over 100 appearances for Sao Paulo, a local rival to fellow Club World Cup competitors Santos.

Santos

Perhaps the side with the best chance of upsetting Barcelona are the side from the small island off of Sao Paulo.

Santos possess two of the most exciting young players currently in Brazilian football; Neymar and Ganso. Whoever faces them in the semi-finals will have to make sure they stop the teams flowing movement.

At the tender age of 19, Neymar has already broken into the national team and, despite signing a contract extension in November, is continually linked with top European sides such as Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona.

Santos also have former Manchester City midfielder Elano on their books and the playmaker will be looking to remind viewers of what he has to offer.

The side didn’t have the best of seasons in Serie A this season, finishing in tenth place, but it is their success over Penarol of Uruguay in the Copa Libertadores that has earned them the right to compete against the best teams in club football in Japan. 

Big kick-off

The final will kick off ten days after the first match on Thursday. Will Barcelona be lifting yet another trophy, or will a Kiwi, Mexican, Tunisian, Japanese, Qatari or Brazilian side put an end to Europe’s four year dominance in the competition?


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