Soccer 101

SOCCER 101: FIFA Club World Cup 

MLS_Articles_Soccer101_Fifa Club World Cup

Written by Zach Lowy

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FIFA ushered in the new millennium with the introduction of the Club World Championship, now known as the Club World Cup, a competition that would see the winners of each continent’s top international club tournament compete amongst each other, such as the UEFA Champions League or the Copa Libertadores, as well as other sides such as Real Madrid, winners of the now-defunct Intercontinental Cup in 1998, and Corinthians, the reigning domestic champions in the host nation of Brazil. Whilst Real Madrid and Manchester United were heavily favored, Corinthians would go on to defeat fellow Brazilian side Vasco da Gama in the final. The following two decades have seen plenty of bumps in the road for the tournament, but the Club World Cup has nevertheless emerged as an annual spectacle in the global footballing calendar. It is an unparalleled tournament that sees the best clubs in each continent compete for the ultimate glory, and it’s just about to get started.

When is the FIFA Club World Cup?

The 2022 FIFA Club World Cup will kick off on February 1, 2023, and will end on February 11 with Moroccan cities Tangiers and Rabat sharing hosting privileges.

What teams are going to participate?

The opening fixture will see Egyptian behemoths Al Ahly face off against New Zealand side Auckland City, with the winner facing off against one of three teams in the second round: Saudi side Al Hilal, Moroccan side Wydad Casablanca, and MLS side Seattle Sounders. The two winners of these fixtures will face off against Real Madrid and Flamengo in the semifinals, followed by the third-place match and the final, both of which take place on February 11.

How do teams qualify for the Club World Cup?

Teams must win the top-level international club competition in their continent in order to compete – domestic performance is fairly irrelevant in this scenario. Despite finishing 21st in the league and 11th in the West, Seattle Sounders made history by winning the CONCACAF Champions League and securing a berth in Morocco, drawing 2-2 at Pumas in the first leg before winning 3-0 in Seattle to claim the title. 

What is the purpose of the FIFA Club World Cup?

The Club World Cup will see the winners of the six continental confederations as well as the host nation’s league champions (Wydad Casablanca) compete for international glory. Clubs from all around the world travel to one destination for 10 days and vie for success on the world stage and look to crown themselves champions not just for their nations, but their continents as well.

How does the current format work?

The winners of this year's AFC Champions League (Asia), CAF Champions League (Africa), CONCACAF Champions League (North, Central America, and Caribbean), CONMEBOL Libertadores (South America), OFC Champions League (Oceania) and UEFA Champions League (Europe), along with the host nation's national champions take part in a knockout tournament with the hosts facing off against the Oceania champions in the first round before joining up with the other three in the quarterfinals – the winners of those matches proceed to take on the European and South American champions in the semis.

When was the FIFA Club World Cup founded?

Then known as the FIFA Club World Championship, the competition debuted in 2000 with Corinthians finishing above Real Madrid in their group to secure a berth to the final, where they would beat fellow Brazilian side Vasco da Gama on penalties in Rio de Janeiro. The tournament went on hiatus until 2005 with São Paulo pulling off a major upset and defeating Premier League giants Liverpool 1-0 in Yokohama. Internacional made it three out of three for Brazil when they defeated FC Barcelona 1-0, but Milan ended that streak the following year and defeated Boca Juniors in the final whilst Manchester United edged out LDU Quito via a late winner from Wayne Rooney.

The tournament left Yokohama for Abu Dhabi in 2009 as Barcelona defeated Estudiantes to complete a sextuple – six trophies in one year. Serie A giants Inter thrashed Congolese side TP Mazembe 3-0, who became the first African side to reach the final, with Barcelona adding another to their trophy cabinet the following year. Corinthians became the first South American team to win it since 2006 and claimed their second Club World Cup trophy, beating Chelsea 1-0 in Yokohama. The following years would see Bayern Munich beat Raja Casablanca and Real Madrid beat San Lorenzo in Marrakesh. Barcelona added a third the following year and defeated River Plate. Real Madrid needed extra time to squeeze past Japanese side Kashima Antlers, winning 4-2 via an early goal from Karim Benzema and a hat-trick from Cristiano Ronaldo.

The following two years would see Real Madrid defeat Brazilian side Grêmio and Emirati side Al Ain in Abu Dhabi, whilst Liverpool avenged their 2005 defeat by beating Flamengo 1-0 in extra time via a 99th-minute goal from Roberto Firmino. Bayern Munich defeated Mexican side Tigres 1-0 via a goal from Benjamin Pavard in Al Rayyan, Qatar. Chelsea avenged their embarrassment of 2012 by defeating Brazilian side Palmeiras 2-1 in extra time as a penalty goal from Kai Havertz in the 117th minute secured their first Club World Cup trophy in Abu Dhabi.

How many MLS teams have played in the Club World Cup?

Seattle Sounders will become the first MLS side to participate in the tournament when they kick off proceedings in Morocco, with Mexican clubs representing CONCACAF in all but one of the previous 18 times when Costa Rican side Deportiva Saprissa took part in the 2005 edition. They made history by defeating Mexican side Pumas 5-2 across two legs to win the CONCACAF Champions League. They became the first MLS side to win the competition under its current format, and they will be looking to continue their run and advance to the semifinals as they prepare to take on Al Ahly, Auckland City, Al-Hilal or Wydad Casablanca in the second round on February 4.

What is the future of the Club World Cup?

FIFA boss Gianni Infantino confirmed plans for a 32-team men’s Club World Cup in the lead-up to the 2022 FIFA World Cup Final, with the proposed tournament set to take place every four years as opposed to the previous annual edition. “It has to be an ambition and mission of FIFA to organize its events in new countries,” stated Infantino. “The best teams in the world will be invited to participate.”

FIFA had originally aspired to launch a 24-team tournament in China in 2021 only to abandon those plans due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Now, their new tournament would feature 32 teams in a month-long tournament in June 2025. This proposal is subject to approval by the six confederations and has drawn criticism from FIFPRO, a global union of professional footballers, as well as the World Leagues Forum, which represents the world’s professional leagues, both of whom raised concerns about player welfare and fixture congestion.