Seven on the starting line in Japan

The 13th FIFA Club World Cup will get underway on 8 December in Yokohama, Japan, where seven sides will be looking to establish themselves as the kings of world football. The eighth edition to be held in the Land of the Rising Sun, this year presents a nice balance of seasoned regulars and new blood. Mamelodi Sundowns, Atletico Nacional and Kashima Antlers will be making their tournament debuts, and the newcomers are joined by Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors and Club America, making their second and third appearances respectively, as well as old hands Auckland City and 2014 winners Real Madrid.

With a formidable squad laden with international stars, Real Madrid will be the team to beat in East Asia. The pre-tournament favourites, Los Blancos are gunning for a second Club World Cup after their 2014 triumph, where goals from Sergio Ramos and Gareth Bale saw off San Lorenzo in Morocco. The Spanish giants also have the added incentive this year of succeeding La Liga rivals Barcelona as champions.

Eight of the last nine winners have hailed from Europe and while the competition’s other six sides will be up against it as they look to thwart the trend of European dominance, that does not mean they will merely be making up the numbers in Japan. Indeed, 2016 Copa Libertadores winners Atletico Nacional will want to have their say. The Colombians boast a marvellous team spirit and work ethic, and with renowned goal-getter Miguel Borja leading the line, you can expect the Medellin outfit to be a formidable threat in attack.

CONCACAF Champions League winners Club America, meanwhile, will be keen to atone for their abrupt exit last year. The Mexican side will have felt their 2015 journey ended prematurely, bowing out at the hands of Guangzhou Evergrande in the quarter-finals, and will no doubt be able to rely on seasoned internationals Oribe Peralta and Paul Aguilar as they look to bounce back.

It will be a case of déjà vu for the Estadio Azteca side as they take on AFC Champions League winners Jeonbuk Hyundai Motors in the quarter-finals – 10 years to the day when both sides last met in the competition. Of the starting XI that was fielded back in 2006, defender Choi Chulsoon looks likely to take to the pitch in the same fixture 10 years on. Jeonbuk goalkeeper and captain Kwoun Suntae also featured in that clash a decade ago, but will miss out on this year’s competition through injury.

One of the three sides making their first appearance at the tournament, CAF Champions League winners Mamelodi Sundowns will go into their opening game in Osaka brimming with confidence. A domestic league title triumph in May was followed by continental success in October, and of the five nominees listed for CAF’s African Player of the Year (Based in Africa) award, four ply their trade for the Pretoria-based side. Masandawanaboast a nice blend of experience and youth. While they can rely on the knowledge of club captain Hlompho Kekana, whose goal against Cameroon made the initial 10-person shortlist for this year’s Puskas Award, they possess plenty of youthful energy in the form of exciting talents Keagan Dolly and Percy Tau.

In the second round, Pitso Mosimane’s Sundowns will face the winner of Kashima Antlers and Auckland City, the two side’s competing in the opening game. Kashima will be on a high after just being crowned Japanese J1 League champions on Saturday and are set to make their debut at the competition. The newcomers face off against regulars Auckland City, making a record eighth appearance. After bowing out at the first hurdle last year, the Navy Blues will feel like they have unfinished business in Japan and can take heart from their valiant showing in 2014, where Ramon Tribulietx’s men stormed to an against-the-odds bronze-medal finish in Morocco.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.