By Clemente Lisi – NEW YORK, NY (Jan 25, 2021) US Soccer Players – The eyes of the soccer world will be on Qatar next week with the start of the FIFA Club World Cup. The 17th edition of the tournament officially kicks off February 4, originally scheduled for this past December, but postponed because of the pandemic.
What in theory crowns the world club champion is closer to reality a tournament that hasn’t always drawn the most positive attention. Teams have to abandon their domestic competitions and travel to far off places to play in a competition that ultimately has little cache. FIFA has tried to build up this tournament since its inception in the year 2000.
The pandemic has again caused issues with Auckland City withdrawing due to COVID-19 and quarantine measures required by New Zealand authorities. That meant the cancellation of the opening round game on February 1 that would have pitted the Oceania champions against hosts Al-Duhail. As a result, the tournament starts three days later when Tigres UANL and Ulsan Hyundai FC face each other at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium at 9am ET, while Al Duhail SC and Al Ahly SC play four hours later at Education City Stadium.
Those preliminary rounds produce the two teams that will play the heavyweights. UEFA and CONMEBOL’s representatives enter in the semifinals, needing two wins to lift the trophy. In another odd twist, we don’t yet know who will represent South America. The 2020 Copa Libertadores is at the final stage with Palmeiras and Santos playing on January 30. The winner of that game advances to the Club World Cup.
Here are three things we can expect from the 2020 edition of the FIFA Club World Cup:
Qatar as tournament host
Both of the Club World Cup venues are also sites for the 2022 World Cup. With the Confederations Cup off the schedule and the Club World Cup moving to Japan in December, this is a chance at a run-through. While there will be a limited number of spectators because of the pandemic, organizers can focus on logistics, such as travel and lodging, that matters big time during a World Cup.
Qatar hosted this tournament in 2019 and another edition will only help build on lessons learned there, albeit this one under considerably different conditions. For example, fans will need to present either a negative COVID-19 test or record of full vaccination. They must also wear masks in and around the venues, and adhere to social distancing rules.
European clubs are always the clear favorites
In the 16 previous editions of this tournament, the Champions League winners have lifted the trophy 12 times. Since 2013, the winner has always been a European club. The last team not from Europe to win the tournament was Corinthians of Brazil in 2012.
Bayern Munich arrives as the favorite after a dominating Champions League run that hasn’t let up this season. The defending European champions have the depth and quality to add to their growing trophy haul. Bayern will bring their full squad with Robert Lewandowski arguably the most in-form player on the planet. Bayern expects to win whatever trophy they play for, and this is no exception.
What we can we expect from Concacaf
While some clubs may find this tournament to be an inconvenience, it remains a big deal for Concacaf. With MLS teams failing to crack the Mexican domination of the Concacaf Champions League, this is a tournament that remains elusive for US and Canadian clubs. In 2001, FIFA canceled the tournament that would have included the participation of the LA Galaxy. That’s as close as MLS has gotten.
Meanwhile, Liga MX has turned its participation at the Club World Cup into a foregone conclusion. Their dominance in the Concacaf Champions League era hasn’t exactly shown regularly at Club World Cup level. The best Concacaf teams have ever done is finish in third. That has happened five times, the last in 2019 with Monterrey. The others were Necaxa (2000), Saprissa (2005), Monterrey (2012), and Pachuca (2017). Costa Rica’s Saprissa is the only side on that list not from Mexico.
The FIFA Club World Cup is still trying to get the cache it deserves as the global championship. It helps when a club not representing South America makes it to the final. That happened in 2018 when Al-Ain knocked out River Plate. Kashima Antlers made it to the 2016 final as did Raja Casablanca in 2013 and TP Mazembe in 2010. What happens next is another trophy for a European club. Although it shouldn’t come as a shock given the financial imbalance of the global game, that’s the major stumbling point for the tournament. When the winner is all but a foregone conclusion, it’s tough to build up interest.
FIFA planned on that changing this summer with the revamped and expanded Club World Cup, but the pandemic altered those plans. Now, it’s at least two more editions of a tournament with an obvious flaw. With only the Champions League winner representing Europe, it’s always their tournament to lose.
Clemente Lisi is a regular contributor to US Soccer Players. He is also the author of A History of the World Cup: 1930-2018.
More from Clemente Lisi:
- Weston McKennie’s numbers
- MLS in the January 2021 transfer market
- The USMNT in 2021
- The 2021 soccer schedule
Logo courtesy of FIFA