Manero

A Chance to Rule the World

By: Alfonso Duro

Since its inception, the FIFA Club World Cup has been nothing short of a travesty of a tournament. It falls at the worst time of the season, up until a few years ago it was played solely in Japan—of all places—and it lacks the historical pedigree of the tournaments that the big clubs want to battle for. At one point, in 2001, there was even a big doubt of whether or not the tournament would be feasible at all in the future.

Yet, as it happens with the Confederations Cup at the international level, it is the kind of tournament that teams are never too keen on winning, but which will leave an open wound for the rest of the season if they are to lose it. Thus the reason why everyone traveling to Morocco this time around will give it their best to bring the title home.

Although last year’s edition may not be the best example, the America-Europe rivalry ends up overshadowing the rest of teams in the tournament, and this year, San Lorenzo and Cruz Azul are willing to test their wits against the all-encompassing winning machine Real Madrid has evolved into.

ONE TEAM TO RULE THEM ALL. Carlo Ancelotti has assembled a well-oiled machine that has spent the better part of the last four months not only winning, but also crushing rivals that came their way, and reach the end stretch of 2014 wanting to put the cherry on top to a perfect year.

The FIFA World Club Cup could become the fourth trophy on the Merengue’s tally this year, since Gareth Bale embodied Forrest Gump to help lift the Copa del Rey in Valencia, back in April.

While the Italian manager would much rather see his men disconnect and enjoy a long vacation in order to recharge and get ready for what’s ahead, he sees this trip to Morocco as a chance to make a final statement, a coup de grâce of sorts, on a year that has seen his team get back on top. Oh, and it will also give Cristiano Ronaldo the chance to add another notch to his belt. As if he needed it.

OLD ROCKERS NEVER DIE. There’s no better way to describe the current state of business at Mexican club Cruz Azul. After failing to win a title in over a decade, the Cementeros won the Copa MX in 2013 and the CONCACAF Champions League this past summer, which earned them a spot in the Morocco bout for “World Soccer Supremacy.”

How did they manage to do so, you ask? Well, the team focused on surefire bets rather than promising young talent, and the play seems to have paid off.

With a starting lineup that boast some oldie-but-still-goodie talent like Gerardo Torrado, Hugo Pavone, Christian Giménez or Francisco “El Maza” Rodríguez, not even a storm of biblical proportions could stand between the Mexican side and their dreams to advance in the tournament, and their next rival will be none other than the standing European champion.

THE GREAT AZULGRANA HOPE. San Lorenzo was the sensation of the year in South America, topping Paraguay’s Nacional in the Copa Libertadores, and winning the oldest trophy in the sport for the first time in the club’s history.

The Continental victory was the continuation of the great job done with a squad that balanced young talent and veterans’ experience to perfection, and that had already won the Torneo Inicial 2013, and which is now looking at the FIFA World Club Cup as the logical next step in their progression.

El Ciclón has found inspiration in Corinthians and Internacional de Porto Alegre, the last two South American squads to win this tournament, although their performances in the local tournaments since their Copa Libertadores victory have left a lot to be desired.

The preset draw by FIFA sets them up perfectly to, at least, make it to the final, and then go all out against Real Madrid or Cruz Azul.

It may be the last big splash this historical squad can make before—as it’s happened to others in the past—it disintegrates altogether, and Bauza’s men want to make the best of it.

OUR TAKE. The Merengues see no competition in Morocco beyond the hard work Cruz Azul or San Lorenzo can put forth, but honestly, if Real Madrid manages to keep up their current momentum, it wouldn’t matter if Pele’s 1970 Brazil showed up in the tournament—the Spaniards would still take the trophy.

LOGISTICS: FIFA Club World Cup, until December 20, see the schedule here

Alfonso Duro is a Spanish freelance writer. When he's not managing Google's agency in the United Arab Emirates (his current job), chances are he's watching and writing about soccer.