Atlético Mineiro will be heading to their first Club World Cup after their triumph in the Copa Libertadores.(Bruno Magalhaes/AP)
Occasionally, FIFA gets something right.
While the controversy over Qatar continued to capture the headlines on Wednesday as the Leaders of Football conference convened in London, one of FIFA’s most significant contributions to 21st-century soccer was celebrated in Morocco.
There, soccer’s much-maligned governing body conducted the draw for this year’s Club World Cup, which will take place Dec. 11-21 in Marrakesh and Agadir.
Launched in 2005 (after a false start five years earlier) as a replacement for the old Intercontinental Cup, which acknowledged only the titlists from Europe and South America, the CWC is pretty much perfect. It crowns a legitimate world champion. It’s inclusive. It’s over quickly, respecting the congested schedules of its participants. And its single-elimination format acknowledges the disparity between Europe and South America and the rest of the world by granting byes to the traditional powers.
Some day, an MLS team might even qualify for it. But for now, CONCACAF will continue to rely on Mexico.
WAHL: Little chance of U.S. obtaining World Cup seed
For the third straight year, Monterrey will be the region’s representative at the CWC. Los Rayados claimed bronze last year, becoming the first CONCACAF side since Deportivo Saprissa in 2005 to medal at the tournament. Monterrey is struggling in Liga MX at 3-6-4, however, and will be hard pressed to repeat the feat. By scheduling the Champions League to conclude in the spring, CONCACAF risks sending a team to the CWC that has changed significantly from the one that won the continental crown.
Perhaps as FIFA’s tournament grows in stature, and it will, CONCACAF will reconsider the timing of its own competition.
Here’s the draw for the 2013 tournament, where Bayern Munich will be favored to bring the trophy back to Europe after Corinthians’ triumph last year.
Dec. 11, Raja Casablanca (Morocco) vs. Auckland City (New Zealand)
Like all FIFA tournaments, the CWC grants entry to the host. Raja, a three-time African champion, won its third Moroccan title in five years in May. It will face Auckland City, which recently won its third consecutive Oceania title. You can’t call yourself a world championship unless you give the whole world a shot.
Dec. 14, Monterrey (Mexico) vs. Raja/Auckland winner
Dec. 14, African champion vs. Asian champion
Monterrey gets a break here, with a match-up with Raja some 300 miles from its home base the worst-case scenario. The teams in the other quarterfinal have yet to be determined. The Asian Champions League finals will be contested on Oct. 26 and Nov. 9 by China’s Guangzhou Evergrande (coached by Italian World Cup winner Marcello Lippi) and FC Seoul of South Korea. A Chinese club hasn’t won the Asian title since 1990.
Africa’s Champions League is down to the final four. Egyptian power Al-Ahli, the continent’s most successful club, will look to overcome tragedy and a suspended domestic circuit to win its eighth continental crown. The first leg of its semifinal with Cameroon’s Coton Sport ended 1-1. The decider is Oct. 20.
In the other semi, South Africa’s Orlando Pirates and Tunisia’s Espérance de Tunis are tied, 0-0, heading into the second leg on Oct. 19. The finals are in early November.
Only Africa has broken the European/South American stranglehold on the CWC final. TP Mazembe of DR Congo shocked Brazil’s Internacional in the 2010 semifinal and then was brought back to earth in the final by Inter Milan.
Dec. 17, Bayern Munich (Germany) vs. Africa/Asia winner
Dec. 18, Atlético Mineiro (Brazil) vs. Monterrey/Raja/Auckland winner
Bayern won the old Intercontinental Cup in 1976 and 2001 and will be looking to become the eighth club to claim at least three world championships. The only other European teams to manage that are AC Milan (four), city rival Inter (three) and Real Madrid (three).
Atlético won its first Copa Libertadores in July. With Brazilian legend Ronaldinho in the No. 10 jersey, the Belo Horizonte club will hope to follow in Corinthians’ footsteps.
Dec. 18, Quarterfinal losers
Dec. 21, Semifinal losers
Dec. 21, Semifinal winners
The trophy will be awarded at the Stade de Marrakech, which was completed in 2011. The 45,000-seat facility is home to local club KAC Marrakech. Under the CWC format launched in 2005, European teams have won five titles and South America four (all belonging to Brazilian clubs). Including the Intercontinental Cup, the scoreboard reads 26-26. The tie could be broken in December.