Following the play-off and the two quarter-finals, the line-up for the 2013 Club World Cup has now been decided.
Champions League winners Bayern Munich will take on Asian champions Guangzhou Evergrande of China, while Copa Libertadores winners Atletico Mineiro will battle the hosts, Moroccan champions Raja Casablanca.
These two fixtures involve sides from four different federations, each representing a different quarter of world football.
This article previews these two semi-finals and predicts the results. Comment below and let us know your forecasts for these two intercontinental battles.
Bayern Munich vs. Guangzhou Evergrande
Bayern Munich are favourites to win the Club World Cup. The German and European champions have a squad brimming with talent and currently sit atop the Bundesliga, seven points ahead of Bayer Leverkusen.
They can also boast the services of Pep Guardiola, the only manager in history to have won the competition twice. The Spaniard will be looking to add to his Barcelona triumphs in 2009 and 2011 with victory in Morocco.
The first challenge for his squad will be China’s Guangzhou Evergrande.
Despite the gulf in stature between the two sides, Guardiola will ensure that his team do not underestimate their Asian opponents.
The manager will have expressed to his team the value of the tournament and the respect with which his charges should treat it. He said (per enca.com): “This tournament is very important, very prestigious. It's not easy to qualify for it, nor to win it. ... You don't have the good fortune to take part in this competition very often in your life as a professional footballer and I'd like to express my gratitude to the team..."
Guardiola has ensured, and Manuel Neuer has demonstrated, that Bayern will head into this contest with the right attitude and a genuine hunger for victory.
In the opposite dug-out from Guardiola will be Marcello Lippi, a manager who requires little incentive to respect. The veteran boss coached Italy to World Cup success in 2006 and has now brought his considerable experience to China.
In terms of a result, this one ought not to be too tricky to predict.
Lippi himself suggested (per Agence France-Presse, h/t The Times of India) that his team had only a one percent chance of emerging victorious. When a manager makes comments like this, one is left with little optimism for his side: "We're going to play against one of the best teams in the world. When you play a match against a team like this, out of 100 matches you lose 99 but you can win one and I hope that will be the next one. You never know."
The Egyptian team and, notably, their legendary midfielder Mohamed Aboutrika, had dreamed of a fairytale fixture against Bayern, according to BBC Sport. It wasn’t to be as the Cairene giants had their hopes shattered by Elkeson and Dario Conca.
Anything is possible, although bet365’s odds (h/t bavarianfootballworks.com) of 20-1 for Guangzhou victory seem to point towards a landslide.
Bleacher Report prediction: Bayern win 4-0
Atletico Mineiro v. Raja Casablanca
Whilst the battle between big-spending Bayern and Guangzhou will bring its own intriguing dynamics to the table, the clash between Raja Casablanca and Atletico Mineiro may well steal the show.
The Club World Cup is taken extremely seriously outside Europe, particularly in South America where sides see this as a unique and valuable opportunity to test themselves against the Champions League winners.
It is an opportunity that comes around rarely and, particularly when the opposition is likely to be an exceptionally dominant Bayern Munich side, the prize of semi-final victory will be a clear and unswerving focus in the minds of Atletico Mineiro’s players.
Galo have been looking forward to this tournament and preparing themselves for Bayern for over six months—it is not an opportunity that they are likely to let pass them by.
Beyond pure motivation, Atletico also boast the talent to outdo Raja and advance to a competitive final with Bayern.
They haven’t won the Brazilian championship since 1971—their sole victory—but earned their place in the Club World Cup following their maiden Copa Libertadores triumph earlier in the year. Their 4-2-3-1 formation and high-pressing approach will not be anything particularly new or challenging for Bayern, but, nonetheless, the European Champions will need to keep tabs on some key personnel.
Victor is a fine, dependable goalkeeper, while Rever and Leonardo occasionally suffer lapses in concentration but are generally very capable centre-backs. Josue and Pierre are the two midfielders, both destructive types who may well become isolated and frustrated against Bayern but should dominate the contest against the North Africans.
Who will win the Club World Cup?
Ronaldinho will play as the creative force behind a frontman, Jo, and the pair are crucial to Atletico’s chances. The veteran icon remains a player of great influence and will surely relish the prospect of a game against the European champions.
Jo will enjoy the game against Raja, where he has both the pace and the presence to trouble the Moroccan defence. Should he and his teammates face Bayern in the final, however, he may not have the nous or the service to hurt them.
For all their talent, however, Atletico Mineiro would do well not to underestimate Raja Casablanca.
Raja qualified for the tournament as hosts and Botola champions. They were impressive in the Moroccan league, finishing with 66 points, and have looked in fine fettle thus far in the Club World Cup.
They ousted Auckland City following a late Abdelilah Hafidi winner and then defeated Monterrey in the quarter-final following an extra-time Kouko Guehi goal.
They may well be fatigued by these exhausting victories, but it wouldn’t be unthinkable for the euphoria of home support to underpin a shock result.
Bleacher Report prediction: Atletico Mineiro win 2-0