FIFA Club World Cup: All eyes on Barcelona

The in-form Barcelona, spearheaded by the attacking trio of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, are the clear favourites to win the cup.

The striking trio, Luis Suarez, Neymar and Lionel Messi, hold the key to Barcelona's success.   -  REUTERS

Rodrigo Mora has been in great form for River Plate.   -  REUTERS

The 12th FIFA Club World Cup (December 10-20), to be staged in Japan, will feature the champion club from each of the six continents and the champion team of the hosts. This year, the teams in the fray are, River Plate (Argentina), Auckland City (New Zealand), Barcelona (Spain), Club America (Mexico), Guangzhou Evergrande (China), TP Mazembe (Congo) and Sanfrecce Hiroshima (Japan). Among these teams, only River Plate have not played in the tournament before.

The in-form Barcelona, spearheaded by the attacking trio of Neymar, Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi, are the clear favourites to win the cup and continue Europe’s domination of the Club World Cup. Barcelona and the Brazilian side, Corinthians, have two titles under their belt but the Catalans have the opportunity to a grab a third this year.

Though the European clubs have dominated the tournament, there have been instances where other teams have topped them. In 2005, Brazil’s Sao Paulo emerged victors by defeating Liverpool. In the following year, another Brazilian side, Internacional, defeated Barcelona in the final. In 2012, the Premier League club, Chelsea, lost out to a spirited Corinthians.

A platform for players to display skills

The European teams have also put in sluggish performances. For instance, Barcelona’s win in 2009, against Estudiantes, came via the penalties, while Manchester United had to rely on a 73rd minute Wayne Rooney goal to secure a 1-0 win against LDU Quito of Ecuador in the 2008 finals. While the tournament might be of less importance to the European clubs, for the rest, it offers an opportunity to stake a claim as the very best in the world. And for most players, the tournament provides a platform to display their skills.

Following his impressive performances for Internacional in the 2006 Club World Cup, Alexandre Pato was signed by AC Milan in a lucrative deal in 2007. Valencia followed suit in 2008 by striking a deal for Argentine midfielder Ever Banega after the club were impressed by his imposing display in the Club World Cup the previous year.

River Plate’s challenge

Barcelona have scored 34 goals in 13 matches in the Spanish League this season but that doesn’t mean the European champions will have it easy in the Club World Cup. River Plate, fresh from their first Copa Libertadores win in 19 years, will pose a big challenge to the Spanish side. The team is famous for having unearthed talents such as Radamel Falcao, Javier Mascherano and Esteban Cambiasso.

Uruguayan striker Rodrigo Mora has been in great form for the Los Millonarios, having scored seven goals in 18 appearances so far, while young guns, Sebastian Driussi and Lucas Alario, will also be keen to impress. Midfielder Matias Kranevitter, who was signed by Atletico Madrid in the summer, will also be a player aiming to make a mark for River Plate, in what will be his final match for the side.

Sanfrecce Hiroshima and home support

Mexico’s Club America have been on a patchy run of form recently, but the experienced side will certainly fancy their chances in the tournament in Japan.

Auckland City are another team to watch out for. The club from New Zealand will be hoping to at least replicate their performance last year when they finished third in the tournament.

Japanese champions Sanfrecce Hiroshima, with the backing of home support, will be pushing for a place in the semi-finals. The Asian champions, Guangzhou Evergrande, and African winners, TP Mazembe, are the other two teams in the tournament.

The tournament kicks off on December 10, with Sanfrecce taking on Auckland City at the International Stadium in Yokohama.

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