Well, the FIFA Club World Cup started today in Abu Dhabi, but buried in the aftermath of the World Cup draw and on the final day of the UEFA Champions League group stage, you might have blinked and missed it.
The opening game itself turned out to be something of a surprise, or at least a downer for the tournament, as New Zealand amateurs Auckland “shocked” Al Ahli of host nation UAE (they have the same name as the more famous Al Ahli of Egypt), beating them 2-0.
And just like that Al Ahli are done, and the quarter finals will get underway (the byzantine current rules mean the Oceania confederation champion, in this cause Auckland, has to take on the home nation champions in a play-off to join the other five reigning confederation champions).
Shock or not, it leaves the tournament in the media wilderness of Abu Dhabi without a host nation representative alive. The other qualifiers are Pohang Steelers (Korea, AFC), TP Mazembe (Congo, CAF), FC Barcelona (Spain, UEFA), Atlante (Mexico, CONCACAF) and Estudiantes (Argentina, CONMEBOL). The European and South American champions have byes to the semi-final stage, a somewhat ludicrous concession to ensure their participation.
The tournament is being hosted in Abu Dhabi for the first time, after three successive tournaments in Japan since the it became an annual event in 2006. On the eve of the tournament, FIFA’s Vice-President Jerome Valcke was forced to defend the decision to host the tournament in the UAE capital:
FIFA tournaments are not bound to a specific country. UAE submitted the best hosting bid, which is why we’re here today in Abu Dhabi. And now we know the decision to move this World Cup to the UAE was the right one. I don’t think Europe is ready to host the Club World Cup yet, because there are already too many matches there. Apart from the fact that the UAE bid was the best, we’re in any case convinced that interest in the tournament here and in other regions of the world is rather greater than it would be if we held it in Europe.
There’s nothing wrong with FIFA tournaments taking place outside Europe — the world’s sport obviously still has a Euro-centric problem — but this is one case where there is too little European attention. The same goes for North and South America too. Surely rotating the tournament around the FIFA confederations would make the most sense to generate interest over time all around the world.
I may in the minority in that I’m not against the idea of a Club World Cup in principle; but FIFA still has plenty of serious issues to resolve regarding timing, location and explaining to everyone else why they should care when two teams get byes to the semi-final to begin with.