Being crowned as the champions of world club soccer doesn’t command the reverence you might expect. The FIFA World Club Cup often disrupts the domestic campaigns of a host of teams involved and subsequently, it’s seen by many supporters as a hindrance to their side’s quest for major honors closer to home.
Last season’s tournament caught the eye however, as Raja Casablanca—taking part as champions of the host nation, Morocco—made an unexpectedly thrilling run to the final. And while they were unable to best eventual winner Bayern Munich, perhaps those sides taking part this year will gain some inspiration from their run.
Real Madrid, who have accrued 19 straight wins at the time of writing, will be the overwhelming favorites in Morocco, where the tournament will be hosted for the second consecutive year. But the champions of various continents, spurred on perhaps by the exploits of Raja 12 months ago, will fancy their chances of upsetting the odds.
Here are the fixtures to come in this competition and a detailed look at the participants looking to be crowned as champions of the soccer world.
All kick-offs are in Eastern Time.
Match 1 – ES Setif vs. Auckland City
No team has featured in this competition more than New Zealand outfit Auckland City, and they were made to fight for their place in the tournament proper when they overcame local Moroccan team Moghreb Tetouan on a penalty shootout in the qualifying playoff.
They’ll be hoping to eliminate African opposition for the second consecutive match, when they take on ES Setif. The Algerian side won the African Champions League to qualify for this showpiece tournament and will be the big favourites to make it through to the semi-finals, especially after the Oceanians’ sapping qualifying match.
But the New Zealand team will be hoping the spirit and fortitude they showcased against Moghreb can see them through another testing tie and notch an historic semi-final appearance at this competition. Look out for Argentinean forward Emiliano Tade; his goals were absolutely vital to Auckland’s triumph in their 2014 OFC Champions League win and will surely be so here if they’re to make any progress.
Match 2 – Cruz Azul vs. Western Sydney Wanderers
Saturday, December 13, 2:30PM, FOX Soccer 2GO
After sampling glory in the CONCACAF and AFC Champions League tournaments earlier in the year, Cruz Azul and Western Sydney Wanderers have both struggled on the domestic front. They will be hoping this tournament can provide some much needed relief as they each get set for their Club World Cup debut.
The Mexican side endured a very torrid season in the Liga MX, eventually finishing in a lowly 13th position. But this tournament will surely do plenty to stir motivation amongst the club’s players, as will the incentive of a potential semi-final clash with Real Madrid.
Things are probably even worse for the Wanderers on the domestic front, who are bottom of the Australian A-League at the time of writing. But having been formed just two years ago, the club can look back at 2014 with pride, and a clash with the European Champions would be a magnificent way to end what has been an unexpectedly prosperous year for the team.
Cruz Azul will be the favorites for this one and will surely boast a sizable chunk of possession at the Stade Moulay-Abdallah. But the men from Sydney play with a real ferocity and with the pressure off, they’ll surely relish this challenge, as they have done with the vast majority of their big games this year.
Match 2 Winner vs. Real Madrid
The European champions need little introduction ahead of this one, and they’ll be the massive favourites to claim the title. Any notion that they won’t be fully focused here can surely be abated too, as Los Blancos have never won this competition in their illustrious history.
If they can ensure complacency doesn’t creep into their game, Carlo Ancelotti’s men should waltz to victory an pick up what’d be their third major trophy of the year following success in both the Champions League and the Copa del Rey.
James Rodriguez does look set to miss the tournament because of injury, but Cristiano Ronaldo—looking for his second winners medal in this competition—Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema possess the kind of quality that could see Madrid scythe through opponents in Morocco. It’ll also be a landmark tournament for Toni Kroos, as he will become only the second player to ever feature in two successive Club World Cups for two different teams.
European giants have occasionally come a cropper in this tournament up against unfamiliar opponents and styles, but if Madrid carry a smidgen of their domestic momentum into this tournament, they’ll romp to victory.
Match 1 Winner vs. San Lorenzo
Usually the final of this competition is played between the champions of Europe and South America, and representing the latter this season will be Argentinean side San Lorenzo. On paper they look the most likely team to challenge the might of the Spaniards and will surely fancy their chances against Setif or Wanderers in the semi-final.
They are not a team that boast the typical South American flair however and if they are to triumph it’s likely to be down to a strong team ethic, spades of endeavor and a sprinkling of stardust from a few mercurial players. San Lorenzo boast few household names after all, with their most high profile player being veteran Colombian defender Mario Yepes.
After winning the Copa Libertadores for the first time in their history, the mood around the club at the moment is unanimously positive. They won’t be expected to win the trophy outright, but the traveling supporters—who turned up in their thousands to see the team off at the airport ahead of this competition, per the Buenos Aires Herald—will relish being underdogs should they make it to what’ll surely be an intriguing final against Real.
The final will be played on Saturday, December 20, 2:30PM, FOX Soccer 2GO & FOX Sports 1 or 2
Follow Matt on Twitter @MattJFootball
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