Thursday, 15 December 2011

Champions of the World

The minimal coverage being given to the Club World Cup in Japan reflects the low regard in which the competition is held in Europe. The situation is quite the opposite in South America where the winners of the Copa Libertadores relish the chance to take on the champions of Europe.

The competition started life as the Intercontinental Cup in 1960 and was played over two legs until 1980 when the World Club Championship became a single tie played in Japan. Expansion by FIFA to include the champions of other continents has made little impact with the European and South American champions getting byes to the semi-finals where they invariably cruise past Asian or African opponents to set up a meeting with each other in the final.

Such has been the disregard in Europe for what is seen as a friendly or exhibition match that after some notoriously violent encounters with South American opponents in the late 60's, a number of European champions boycotted the competition in the 1970's. In 1974, Atletico Madrid even managed to become world champions by standing in for European Cup winners Bayern Munich.

That the South Americans' record in the competition is equal to that of the European clubs (twenty-five trophies each) is remarkable when you consider that they usually field youth players. With the more senior Argentinian and Brazilian internationals all playing in Europe, the competition can be seen as a showcase for young South American talent. The likelihood that Neymar, the nineteen year old star for Pele's former club Santos who will play Barcelona in this weekend's final, will soon be getting on a plane for Milan, Madrid or Barcelona must be very high if this goal is anything to go by.

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