The FIFA Club World Cup is about to kick off in Morocco, with Real Madrid heavily favoured to continue European football’s stranglehold on the competition.
Beginning on Wednesday, the tournament will see six other sides vie with the Spanish giants for the chance to be crowned the best club team on the planet.
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Here is what you need to know:
Which teams are taking part?
The 19th edition of the Club World Cup brings together the respective champions of each of FIFA’s six premier regional competitions, alongside the host nation’s league champions.
Joining Real Madrid in this year’s tournament are sides from Morocco, New Zealand, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Brazil and the United States.
Here is a full list of those taking part:
- Al Ahly, Egypt
- Al Hilal, Saudi Arabia
- Auckland City, New Zealand
- Flamengo, Brazil
- Real Madrid, Spain
- Seattle Sounders, United States
- Wydad AC, Morocco
Real Madrid, Auckland City, Seattle Sounders, Flamengo and Wydad AC all qualified as outright winners of their confederation’s top club tournaments.
The host country’s league champions Wydad AC also won the Confederation of African Football (CAF) last year, so Egyptian runners-up Al Ahly were awarded the Club World Cup’s African spot.
Al Hilal were nominated by the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) as the region’s representative on account of being the reigning champions in the AFC Champions League. The latest iteration of the tournament will not finish until after the Club World Cup.
Where is the tournament being played?
Morocco is hosting this year’s competition, its third time so far.
The tournament last took place in the North African country in 2014, when Real Madrid beat Argentinian side San Lorenzo 2-0 to claim the title.
This year’s matches will be played across two venues – the 65,000-seater Ibn Batouta Stadium in Tangier and the 52,000-capacity Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium in Rabat.
How does the format work?
The tournament’s opening game will pit Al Ahly against Auckland City at the Ibn Batouta Stadium.
The winners will take on Seattle Sounders on February 4. Wydad AC will play Al Hilal on the same day.
Real Madrid and Flamengo will automatically enter proceedings at the semifinal stage, with the Brazilian side set to face either Wydad AC or Al Hilal on February 7.
The Spanish behemoths will be in action a day later, against either Seattle Sounders, Al Ahly or Auckland City.
A third-place playoff will precede the final on February 11. Both matches will be played at the Prince Moulay Abdellah Stadium.
The format is set to change radically in the coming years, with FIFA planning for an expanded competition involving 32 teams to be held every four years beginning in 2025.
Who are favourites to win?
Real Madrid are the outright favourites to win this year’s competition, with the Spanish team seeking to become the first side in history to lift a fifth Club World Cup trophy.
The biggest threat to their ambitions could be Flamengo, Brazil’s most popular team. The Rio de Janeiro outfit will be out to make up for their loss to English side Liverpool in the final of the 2019 edition, hosted by Qatar.
The last nine teams to win the competition have all been from Europe and the continent has provided the winners for 14 of the 18 editions held so far since the first one in 2000.
South America has provided the only check on their success, with Brazilian clubs having come out on top four times in the tournament’s history, most recently in 2012 when Sao Paulo side Corinthians beat England’s Chelsea.
No team from any other region has ever won the Club World Cup, which has run every year since 2005 after taking a five-year hiatus following the inaugural edition.
Who are the players to watch out for?
Real Madrid’s array of stars will command the most attention in Morocco, with veteran French forward Karim Benzema and prodigious Brazilian winger Vinicius Junior among the side’s most glittering talents.
But there are several players from other teams also worth watching out for.
Among them is Salem al-Dawsari, Al Hilal’s Saudi Arabian winger. The 31-year-old shone at the recent World Cup in Qatar, netting against Argentina in the Green Falcons’ shock win against the eventual champions during the tournament’s group stages.
Chilean midfielder Arturo Vidal, 35, will also be hoping to offer up a reminder of his prowess and guide Flamengo to a first-ever Club World Cup victory.
Vidal’s teammate and prolific striker Gabriel Barbosa, 26, is expected to pose a threat to the Brazilian side up front. He has scored 65 times for Flamengo in 105 appearances to date and grabbed the winner for his team in the 2022 Copa Libertadores final against Athletico Paranaense.