FIFA Club World Cup 2012: A Beginner's Guide
Chelsea may have suffered an early exit from the Champions League, but next week, the south London side will get the chance to add one of the most vaunted trophies in club football to their honor roll.
The ninth edition of the FIFA Club World Club has already kicked off in Japan, giving seven teams from around the world the chance to be crowned the king of all the continental federations.
So, how does it work? Who is invited? And what major officiating change has been implemented in this year's tournament? Read on for the low down...
This year's competition takes place in Japan, in the same two Toyota and Yokohama stadia that hosted last year's tournament.
The competition brings together the champions of Europe, Africa, Asia, Oceana, South America and Central and North America. The league winner of the host nation is also invited to participate, bringing the total number of teams to seven.
This season, the lucky seventh team is incumbent J-League champion Sanfrecce Hiroshima.
How does a tournament with an uneven number of teams work? In a word, confusingly.
The Club World Cup is organised into a knockout format, with a single playoff to reach the quarterfinals––of which there are only two!––and then semifinals, which will be the first game for two of the seeded sides.
You were warned that this is confusing, but this diagram from FIFA should help:
The playoff match took place on Thursday, pitting Hiroshima against Auckland, who are the OFC representatives thanks to their efforts in New Zealand's eight-team ASB Premiership.
The semi-professional Kiwis, making their second consecutive appearance in the Club World Cup playoff match, lost 1-0 to Hiroshima at Toyota Stadium. Therefore, the Japanese have qualified for a "quarterfinal" with CAF entrants Al-Ahly on Sunday.
The Egyptian champions are Africa's representative for a record seventh consecutive time, even though they have not played a league match for almost 10 months. Egyptian football was stopped in February following the Port Said stadium disaster, in which 74 fans died in riots between Al-Ahly and Al-Masry supporters.
The other "quarter," held on the same day, is between South Korean K-League victors Ulsan Hyundai and Mexican champs Monterrey.
Ulsain Hyundai qualified as AFC Champions despite only finishing sixth in the K-League. In the AFC Champions League tournament, however, they were unbeaten in their 12 games and scored 27 goals.
Monterrey are the CONCACAF representatives for the second consecutive year but were knocked out in the "quarter" stage in 2011 by then J-League champions Kashiwa Reysol.
The big boys of Europe and South America get a bye to the semifinals, meaning CONMEBOL winners Corinthians and UEFA Champions Chelsea will be in Japan for just two games: a semi and either the final or the third-place match.
But they both reach the final. More on that in a moment...
Only the UEFA or CONMEBOL champions have ever won this tournament, and, considering his current situation, Rafa Benitez can take a quantum of solace from the fact that the Europeans have picked up the silverware in the past five editions.
Additionally, Rafa already has a Club World Cup on his mantle, thanks to his win with Inter Milan in 2010 (even though the Italian side qualified through Jose Mourinho's Champions League efforts).
Corinthians will have a good shot at glory, too, as the South American representative won it in 2005 and 2006. Also, the Brazilians won the inaugural Club World Cup trophy in 2000.
(If you are wondering why a tournament that began in 2000 is in its ninth edition, the tournament did not run between 2001 and 2004. For its relaunch in 2005, it absorbed the Intercontinental Cup, which used to be contested between the UEFA Champions League winners and the South American Copa Libertadores victors. The Intercontinental Cup holders used to be considered the de facto world club champions, but now the other four continental champions get a crack at the whip.)
The New Technology
If this year's tournament is remembered for anything, it will probably be because this is the first time FIFA has used goal-line technology.
Meanwhile, the Hawk-Eye system, the video-based system that is already used in tennis and cricket, will be used at all games at the Toyota Stadium.
It's a brave new world. And hopefully one with fewer controversial "ghost goals."
Should You Care?
Since this competition technically decides the greatest club team in the world, you probably should. But it has also attracted criticism as a FIFA money-spinner that interrupts the domestic campaigns of its entrants.
Last year, Barcelona's David Villa fractured his tibia in the semifinal with Al-Sadd, sidelining him for months. There is some question whether a tournament that features a semi-professional side from New Zealand is worth that kind of risk.
However, the final is usually a decent game featuring two sides that would otherwise have no opportunity to play each other competitively.
The final takes place on Sunday, December 16th at 7.30 p.m. local time, or 5.30 a.m. ET. It's an early one from the Land of the Rising Sun, but one probably worth setting your alarm for.
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