For a tournament that is seeing diminishing interest season after season, the annual FIFA Club World Cup continues to rear its ugly head much to the surprise of many. This year’s tournament is being played in Africa for first time in a welcome change to what has already become a dried out format. The switch to Morocco is only the fourth time that the tournament has been played away from its apparent home in Japan and was done it would seem to appease Real Madrid who already face a tough schedule as it is. The Club World Cup, despite being yet another opportunity for Real to showcase its star studded line up offers little to the Spanish giants and travelling to Asia would have made it even less appealing. Moving the event to within a short flight of Madrid means that Real can take part without worrying about the consequences attached to a long haul journey mid season.
Real manager Carlo Ancelotti remains as always positive about the tournament insisting it is the perfect way for his side to cap off a highly successful 2014 but in truth he is probably frustrated that this event is even on the calendar in the first place. To be honest, most clubs are with the exception of the South American teams who strangely see it as a pinnacle event. With only seven teams taking part, two of which (finalists Madrid and San Lorenzo) entering at the semi final stage, the cup is viewed by many as a joke. After all you have to ask yourself what value a tournament has when it can be won by only playing two games. Few other sports would entertain such a bizarre concept as this but yet FIFA insists that the tournament remains as is and continues to exist season after season.
Real Madrid’s passage into the final was as expected; a fairly easy exercise with Madrid not really having to step up a gear to beat Mexican side Cruz Azul in the semi finals. In the end a 4-0 score line highlighted the ease in which they dispatched their opponents and in truth it could have been worse especially if some of the half chances created by Madrid had been converted. Up next in the final is San Lorenzo which is likely to be a more difficult match for the Galaticos, albeit one that they should still win without much drama.
Argentinean side San Lorenzo may be able to call on Pope Francis as one of their most famous of fans but relying on him for divine intervention against Real Madrid may be asking too much. Since their stunning Copa Libertadores victory over Paraguay’s Nacional in August, the squad has lost some of its key players. Stars like Angel Correa, the talented young attacking midfielder who agreed to join Spanish champions Atletico Madrid in the summer before the conclusion of the Copa and top goal scorer Ignacio Piatti who joined Montreal Impact in the MLS shortly after playing in the final. The loss of these two players in particular cannot be understated as both were considered as vital cogs in the Lorenzo machine. Replacing them has not been easy with head coach Edgardo Bauza relying on emerging youngsters like Juan Cavallaro and Hector Villalba to plug the sizeable gap. Nevertheless progress through the Club World Cup has been steady yet if somewhat frustrating.
Entering at the semi final stage, San Lorenzo were pitched against New Zealand outfit Auckland City with the Argentine side considered heavy favourites to progress to the final. However they made hard work of doing so, needing a 93rd minute strike by substitute Mauro Matos to seal the victory. Even after Matos goal, San Lorenzo looked suspect at the back and on a few occasions their fans had their hearts in their mouths following some near post chances from Auckland. Regardless San Lorenzo now find themselves in their first ever Club World Cup final against arguably the best side in the world right now. They will need to play exceptionally well to win the Cup or hope that Madrid realize how insignificant this tournament has become in advance of the final and choose to not show up. Whilst unlikely to happen, it is this sort of move that would force FIFA into a drastic rethink about their beloved Club World Cup format. Only then could this tournament start to demonstrate value once more and become a competition that clubs across the world actually want to compete in and win.