#ABBoS (Anybody but Barcelona or Santos)
The FIFA Club World Cup is entering their semifinals right now. Did you know? I’d bet that you probably did not. In fact I would almost guarantee that most people who religiously follow the beautiful game didn’t even know.
I was actually surprise when the other day while listening to the radio, Giorgio Chinaglia was talking –in the vaguest of terms– about it. When I write that Chinaglia’s was speaking vaguely about this event, it is not a condemnation of him or of his understanding of this tournament. In fact, the majority of soccer analysts in the world probably have less understanding than he did about it. However, he went on and, correctly, said that it was a joke of a tournament. He insisted that they should go back to the old format of the Intercontinental Cup when the winner of UEFA Champions Legaue and CONMEBOL Copa Libertadores played a single one-off game. In his mind no other federation really mattered, and honestly, he’s right.
The painful truth about the Club World Cup is that no matter who the winner of UEFA Champions League is they automatically become the favorite. The winner of CONMEBOL’s Copa Libertadores is then tagged as the presumable runner up. The rest of the finishing order, 3-7, is going to be fought out by the team from the host country, the Asian Football Confederation, the Oceana Football Confederation, the Confederation of North, Central American and Caribbean Association Football, and Confederation of African Football. So when Chinaglia, and his cohost Charlie Stillitano, said this was Barcelona’s to lose –even if they used a reserve or academy squad– I did not take offense.
The truth of the matter is that no matter how much MLS was pushing #MLS4RSL, no one in the entire world really cares about the FIFA Club World Cup –nor should they. It has less prestige than the Copa Libertadores and far less prestige than UEFA Champions League. Hell, the list of teams already eliminated in the 2011-2012 group stages of UEFA Champions Leage –Manchester United, Manchester City, Porto, Olympiacos, and several more– could easily win this year’s FIFA Club World Cup. The clubs remaining in UEFA’s preeminent tournament — Bayern Munich, Napoli, Inter Milan, CSKA Moscow, Benefica, Basel, Real Madrid, Lyon, Chelsea, Bayer Leverkusen, Arsenal, Marseille, APOEL, St. Petersburg, Barcelona, and AC Milan–are by far some of the best clubs in the world. No one in CONMEBOL comes close, and even Mexico’s FMF (in my humble opinion the best non-European football league in the world) does not have a team that could match any of those teams.
Yet, when FIFA’s real World Cup takes place, we all watch. It doesn’t matter that year in and year out only about five teams could actually win the thing. It is fun to watch teams like New Zealand squeak out wins and draws in group stages, or teams like Japan exceed expectations. But this is just not possible in the piss poor setup of the Club World Cup. Firstly, the OFC winner has to play a play-in game against the champion of the host country’s first division (in this case Kashiwa Reysol of the J-League). The CONMEBOL and UEFA winners are automatically put in the semifinals. And the whole thing is run as a single-game elimination playoff. This makes it very difficult (a) to follow, (b) to create good storylines for, and (c) to have an underdog do well.
In a footballing world where more and more people are cheering for club before country, FIFA needs to start looking into increasing its revenue by looking at the structure of this tournament. I understand the difficulty of a team like Barcelona (who will be playing in nearly every tournament final they are in) or potentially a team like LA Galaxy (who just do not have the depth) to play another tournament with group stages. So if it is not going to be group stages, shouldn’t it at least be a two-legged affair? Shouldn’t all federation winners automatically be in the knockout round? If you are adding the host country that makes seven teams, so why not –since they are already deemed the top federation– just give the runner up of the UEFA Champions League another spot? That would put it at eight teams. This number works for two groups of four or an eight team, randomly drawn knockout tournament.
Regardless, as Kashiwa Reysol –who only qualified by (a) winning the J-League and being the host country’s entrant and (b) beating the OFC Champion League winner, Auckland FC, in a play-in game– advance to the semis for a shot at Santos, I can’t help but hope for pandemonium. I’m all for the underdog. I’m all for the chaos in FIFA sponsored events. So as the FIFA Club World Cup continues on, mostly under the radar of everyone in the world, I will be hoping that not only does Barcelona lose (frankly, I’m sick of Barcelona) but that Santos does to. It’s all about Al-Sadd (the CAF winner) and Kashiwa Reysol at this point, because that is the way to shake the system.
Sure the Club World Cup is a joke right now, but someday it could be FIFA’s premier event. I just wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for that punch line to hit.